Getting the whole Wu-Tang Clan together in one place at one time has become an increasingly difficult task. That’s not surprising, given that Wu-Tang’s original cast all have solo recordings deals, not to mention pursuing other ventures like movies, sitcoms, and starring roles in video games. The last time the Clan got together in the studio was in late 2001 for “Iron Flag,” albiet with Ol’ Dirty Bastard absent due to the chronic (pun intended) problems of his wild lifestyle. Wu-Tang concert dates that have followed end up being a roll of the dice. Sometimes 2/3rds of the Clan shows up, sometimes 1/3rd, and sometimes they simply don’t show up at all. Most groups would simply fold up and disappear under that kind of strain, but the public’s incessant demand for the Clan has kept the loose-knit family in contact with each other enough. Even if their only motive was to cash in on their ever-loyal fanbase, it’s still impressive to have the entire Wu-Tang Clan together on stage at one time; on July 17, 2004 they pulled off this near impossible task for a performance in San Bernadino, CA.

It would be a tragedy if this triumphant performance were not recorded for historical purposes alone, but thankfully someone in the Clan fam did at least get the audio from this event. Thus the first new Wu-Tang Clan album in the last three years is not new studio material, but rather Clan members performing both solo and group hits together live. It may not be what the faithful have kept hope alive for, but it’s a good place to start. The same can be said for the first six tracks of this 60+ minute long set, which are all culled from their debut album over a decade ago. “Bring Da Ruckus” isn’t really performed so much as used for an introduction, so the first actual voice heard rapping is U-God on “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’.” Even the normally gruff MC sounds unusually raspy and hoarse, suggesting they may have had one TOOmany rehearsals before the big show, or he just smoked too much weed. Deck is vocally vexed too, but sounds closer to his original recording than U does. Raekwon and (surprisingly) Ol’ Dirty nail their shit dead on. Unfortunately they cut the track short before Ghost and Masta Killa can shine, moving right into “Clan in Da Front” instead.

That’s a recurring problem with this live “Disciples” set. Of course when you have the large volume of material the Clan has recorded both together and by themselves over the last decade, not to mention that some songs featuring almost all of the members run twice as long as today’s hit singles, creating a good set for a conert may be near impossible. There’s absolutely no excuse though for not performing all of “C.R.E.A.M.” when Deck is there on stage, especially when his verse from the song is one of the most sampled lyrics in rap since they burst on the scene in 1993. The only song they get through more-or-less from start to finish off their debut is “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin’ Ta F’ Wit.” It comes as something of a relief then that they stop giving aborted versions of their group hits and pass off the mic to Ghostface for his song “Ghost Deini,” although even he only does the first verse, leaving out his other vocals and (understandably) Superb’s verse. At this point they switch back to group songs for a little bit, performing “Reunited” except for Method Man’s classic verse, then switching to “For Heaven’s Sake.” This one is an even more truncated performance, stopping immediately after Deck’s first verse.

For the second third of the album, almost all of the performances are from Wu-Tang solo albums. Raekwon’s “Criminology” may be the most confusingly mis-used among them all, since only Ghostface performs his verse and the ostensible star of the song is left out altogether. He does perform part of his “Incarcerated Scarfaces” afterwards, but once again it’s short form. It should become obvious by now the reviewer is fed up and frustrated, and that’s part of the problem when you make a live album out of a concert. When you’re there in person, jumping around kinetically and yelling ’til your lungs collapse, you burn so much adrenaline that things sound that much better and you can overlook not hearing the things you wanted to some degree. After the fact it’s never better, so even though I might have been stoked having seen the whole crew at once, I’m not too happy at home listening to poor versions of my favorite Wu hits. It’s not just that the performances are truncated, but that the recording quality itself is pretty poor and the rappers themselves scream so much their delivery is completely shot. To put it in perspective, the first concert I ever went to in ’93 was ATCQ, De La, and Souls of Mischief. This tour had been going all over the country and by the time they got to Nebraska it was evident Tip and Phife were so hoarse they could barely speak. I was still amped because I was seeing Tribe live, but listening to a recording of it afterwards would undoubtedly be hella dissapointing.

If you can view this recording as more of a “greatest hits sampler” showcasing the mad deep catalogue of the Wu, the album comes across a little better. No Wu head can be mad at hearing songs from “Bring the Pain” to “Liquid Swords” to “Ice Cream” to “Method Man” be performed. On the other hand I know Cappadonna is considered part of the family (I still debate that since he wasn’t on their first album) but I could really give a fuck about hearing “Run.” The deafening silence he’s met with when the beat drops out and he raps solo says it all. It’s even more ironic when Ghost performs his completely different song of the same name right afterwards, totally upstaging the whacker rapper. The most impressive thing about this album may be the fact that Ol’ Dirty was sober and had it together enough to perform songs like “Dog Shit” and “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” even as their set drew to a close. It’s interesting that the only song they chose to perform from “Iron Flag” was “Y’All Been Warned” when there were so many better choices, but they do finish things nicely with “Gravel Pit” from “The W.” As stated before, I’m glad somebody made sure to record this performance for historical purposes, but with better recording quality and a tighter set this album would be a Wu-Tang Clan classic in it’s own right. This one is clearly aimed at the hardcore fanbase, the same ones who were in attendance at the show that night, and can certainly be recommended to that group. Casual fans of the Wu or heads who only follow the careers of select solo members will pass on it.

Wu-Tang Clan :: Disciples of the 36 Chambers - Chapter 1
6.5Overall Score