Sunday, October 20, 2019

Mempho Day One: Wu-Tang Leads An Al Green Singalong & More

Posted By on Sun, Oct 20, 2019 at 2:17 PM

click to enlarge RZA sprays the MEMPHO crowd with champagne - NATHAN ARMSTRONG
  • Nathan Armstrong
  • RZA sprays the MEMPHO crowd with champagne
From Staten Island to Memphis, “there are two things you need at a Wu-Tang show,” the RZA told the crowd at the Mempho festival yesterday. “Weed - and I can smell that - and energy.”

Though the Memphis Flyer is unable to confirm the presence of the first element, there was certainly plenty of the second as the Wu-Tang Clan easily delivered the stand-out performance of the first day of the third annual music festival at Shelby Farms Park.

Also drawing the day’s biggest crowd, the legendary nine-man team mixed it with a genuine respect for the influence of Memphis music on their own. Memphis soul legend David Porter helped welcome the group out and it was all on from there. Several times, a champagne bottle was produced and shaken up over the front few rows (when walking back to my car, I saw one man cradling an empty Wu-Tang bubbles bottle like a father to a first-born child.)

The afternoon sets largely matched the weather — warm, but not too cool — though local favorites Marcella and Her Lovers warrant a special mention for their sheer vitality. Canadian hard rockers Reignwolf provided something different and I’m not sure if I completely got it. Punching out a Black Keys-styled sound (only far more gratuitous), there was plenty of guitar solos and grand-standing. One surreal moment featured lead singer Jordan Cook pulling his beanie over his eyes and playing his guitar ‘blind’.

Later on in the evening, DJ Paul of Three 6 Mafia thrilled the crowd, boasting of how the group bought Memphis hip hop to the world. It’s hard to argue against the group’s influence, and popularity with the hometown crowd, even if he admitted that “only the ones older than 39 out there have been with us since the start.” DJ Paul provided the best off-the-cuff quotes of the day, including this insight following negotiations to use the Three 6 track ‘Azz and Tittiez’ in the 2012 Will Ferrell film The Campaign: “they gave us $500,000 for that shit and I spent it all on cocaine.”

click to enlarge Jack White - KEITH GRINER
  • Keith Griner
  • Jack White
Wearing what seemed to be a red and black jockey silk, Jack White led his Raconteurs into a smart, polished set to close out the evening, featuring long-standing hits like ‘Level’, ‘Blue Veins’,‘Steady As She Goes’ (encore) and a charged-up rendition of ‘Broken Boy Soldier’ which morphed into Them’s 60s anthem ‘Gloria’. ‘Now That You’re Gone’, off their recently released album Help Us Stranger, was a standout. It’s always fun to see White on stage. The alt-rock icon certainly knows the utility of good lighting, a good guitar pose, the right portion of on-stage swagger and a ‘thank you Memphis, Tennessee’ delivered at the perfect time.

click to enlarge Wu-Tang Clan at Mempho - KEITH GRINER
  • Keith Griner
  • Wu-Tang Clan at Mempho
But while The Raconteurs’ and DJ Paul’s sets were outstanding, it was the Wu-Tang Clan that clearly claimed the hearts of Mempho yesterday.

From the high-energy opening track ‘Bring Da Ruckus’, all the Wu Tang classics were there — from ‘Can It Be All So Simple’ and ‘Wu Tang Clan Ain’t Nothing ta F’Wit’ to ‘Protect Ya Neck’ and ‘C.R.E.A.M’. An early collaboration between Porter and Isaac Hayes, ‘C.R.E.A.M’ famously samples ‘As Long As I Got You’ from Stax/Volt girl group The Charmels. Wu-Tang track ‘Tearz’ also samples Stax, with Wendy Rene’s track ‘After the Laughter Comes Tears’ laying the base.

“We found a lot of loot [in Memphis music] to help us tell our story,” the RZA told the adoring crowd, while talking up the impact of Hayes, Porter and Memphis soul legend Willie Mitchell in their music. “Now turn that shit up, we gotta take them back to their foundations.”

By the time the Wu-Tang Clan closed with a chill sing-a-long to Al Green’s ‘I’m So in Love With You’, that had been well and truly achieved.
click to enlarge Wu-Tang Clan at Mempho - KEITH GRINER
  • Keith Griner
  • Wu-Tang Clan at Mempho

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