RZA is shaking up champagne and spraying it over the front rows. Capadonna has stalked to the side of the stage, angry the music hasn't started in time. Wu-Tang's DJ, fresh from performing a display of turntable wizardry, has taken his shoes off and is throwing them into the air in celebration.

As Inspectah Deck spits the instantly recognisable lines from It's Yourz - "Blow the door off this shit like bricks of C4" - and has them chanted back at him by a West Auckland crowd soaked in bourbon, Ghostface Killah and Raekwon share a joke, crack up laughing, and fist-bump each other.

RZA is shaking up a champagne bottle. Photo / Getty
RZA is shaking up a champagne bottle. Photo / Getty

While all this unfolds, the hulking might of Method Man is having a deserved breather, sitting on a folding chair on the side of the stage, mixing drinks by pouring green Powerade into red frat party cups.

With all nine members of the Wu-Tang Clan on stage - that is, RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa and Cappadonna, as well as Ol' Dirty Bastard's son Bar-son Jones filling in for his late father, plus DJ Symphony on the decks - it sure does seem like one hell of a shambles up on stage.


But it's not. For those in the know, the Clan's performance in Auckland last night was much more than what it was billed as, a reconciliatory celebration of the Staten Island crew's debut, the menacing street-grit of 36 Chambers that's now 25 years old.

For decades, getting the entire clan on stage together, performing as one harmonious unit, has been rap's holy grail, an event thwarted by egos, solo careers, infighting and a stonkingly strange double album that remains unreleased, heard only by "Pharmo Bro" Martin Shkreli.

Then there's the fact that organising nearly a dozen rappers to perform together must be something of a logistical nightmare. Just two years ago, only six of them made it here for their debut New Zealand performance as headliners of Raggamuffin.

Even now, with each member in their late 40s or early 50s, you have to feel for Wu-Tang's tour manager, someone who surely has the toughest job in the music industry.

 Wu-Tang Clan performs onstage. Photo / Getty
Wu-Tang Clan performs onstage. Photo / Getty

So it was a night for rap nerds to showcase their knowledge, rapping along as the Clan delivered dose after dose of incendiary street rap, served with the same purpose and intent those songs were made with. You haven't really lived until you've witnessed West Auckland giving as good as they got to Bring da Ruckus, Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nuthing Ta F' Wit and C.R.E.A.M.

Yes, you could party along with them, but it was fascinating to take a step back and watch the stage theatrics unfold: Method Man's dominating stage presence and goofy demeanour is something to behold; Raekwon remains the group's dominant lyricist, with Ghostface's cheeky bluster a close second; while RZA, holding freshly popped champagne bottles for most of the show, is the ringmaster, clearly co-ordinating the whole thing.

As good as seeing all of 36 Chambers live was, the show got better the looser it became. In the second half, with longer tracks Triumph and Reunited getting time to breathe, you could see fragments of how Wu-Tang Clan began, each rapper stepping forward in turn, trying to impress their peers, goofing around on the sidelines but taking their verses incredibly seriously, and the best getting congratulated afterwards.

But one person in particular got dragged into the Clan at the end, as local promoter Gareth Popham was engulfed in a Wu_Tang group hug. Popham deserved his accolades: helped make last night's rap miracle happen, and it's one that's unlikely we'll see happen again.


Wu-Tang Clan
Where: Trust Stadium
When: Friday, December 14