By Simon Vozick-Levinson
Updated December 20, 2019 at 03:45 AM EST
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Wu-Massacre, the album that Method Man, Raekwon, and Ghostface Killah are dropping March 30, whittles down the Wu-Tang Clan to three of its finest. Last night, that line-up was pared further to just Raekwon and Ghostface, for what was billed as an early Wu-Massacre release celebration at the Nokia Theater in NYC’s Times Square. There was some sense in making the trio a duo. Rae and Ghost, in particular, have often felt like a group within a group on the Clan’s releases. These guys go together like peanut butter and jelly, or pasta and tomato sauce — speaking of which, they collaborate often enough to have come up with the acronym R.A.G.U. (for “Rae and Ghost United”) to identify their joint efforts.

The concert began with a string of unimpeachable cuts from 1995’s classic Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… — technically Raekwon’s solo debut, but one to which Ghostface contributed heavily, earning prominent billing on the album’s cover. Their undiminished chemistry was evident in the show-opening string of “Criminology,” “Incarcerated Scarfaces,” “Ice Cream,” and “Verbal Intercourse.” Both rappers are essentially storytellers, Ghostface narrating crime sagas with a jumpy urgency, Raekwon doing the same in gravelly and matter-of-fact tones. Together they strode the stage like giants, joining in on one another’s lyrics at key points for emphasis.

After a few more tunes from their catalog (notably Ghostface’s “Mighty Healthy”), the pair retreated to the back of the stage while random New York mixtape rappers like Grafh and Red Cafe appeared to perform unannounced mini-sets. I’ve got nothing against those dudes, but as far as surprise guests go, I was hoping more for, well, Method Man, or at least Masta Killa. No such luck. At least we got to see Smif-n-Wessun do 1994’s “Bucktown,” whose rough NY sound isn’t so far removed from Rae and Ghost’s territory.

Thankfully, Rae and Ghost took center stage again before long. The crowd of die-hard Wu fans flipped out when they ran through several necessary selections from the Clan’s epochal 1993 debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), including “Bring da Ruckus,” “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F— Wit,” “Shame on a N—-,” “C.R.E.A.M.” (You can see Raekwon do the latter song’s opening verse last night below, thanks to the magic of YouTube; some NSFW language, obviously.) It is never less than thrilling to hear these songs in any context, even when only two members of the nine-man group are present. Rae and Ghost paid tribute to their late friend Ol’ Dirty Bastard by performing his solo single “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” before returning to a few more of their own solo tunes (Raekwon’s “Canal Street,” Ghostface’s “Holla”).

Then came another series of guests, for some reason. A rapper identified only as “Ghost’s son” sounded like a much less experienced version of his dad (only fair, I suppose). Jim Jones walked on for “We Fly High” to much applause. It was interesting to see Rae and Ghost as the kind of elder statesmen who would cede so much of their own concert for the benefit of competitors like Jones — not something either of them have necessarily been best known for in the past. That generous spirit still wasn’t enough to make these interludes feel like smart uses of the audience’s time.

All was more or less forgiven by the crowd when the beat for the Clan’s 1997 single “Triumph” kicked in. No further members made last-minute appearances as Rae and Ghost closed out the show, sadly. Still, my only real complaint last night was that the two main performers didn’t go even deeper into their shared catalog. Concerts can have far worse problems than that. Were any of you at the Nokia Theater last night? Are you looking forward to Wu-Massacre?

(Follow the Music Mix on Twitter: @EWMusicMix.)

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