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Re-enter the Wu-Tang: Vaunted hip-hop collective reunites for tour that stops Saturday in Austin

Chad Swiatecki

There's an interview segment on Wu-Tang Clan's debut album ‘Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)' that bit at the end of the sorrowful ‘Can It Be All So Simple' where an almost certainly stoned Method Man comes closer to explaining the key to the rap collective's cryptic appeal than any long-form think piece ever could.

Wrapping up a rambling treatise on the group's (then) nine members and what they bring to the table creatively, Method Man says of Wu-Tang co-founder GZA/The Genius, ‘He the head... we form like Voltron and GZA happens to be the head.'

The hip-hop Voltron. Nice. That is, as long as you were raised on '80s cartoons celebrating a giant robot that formed when five smaller individual robots merged to create an unbeatable fighting force. Voltron was most kids' introduction to the idea of ‘greater than the sum of its parts.' Likewise, Wu-Tang Clan was a living, rapping example of gestalt as soon as its members sprung from Staten Island (‘Shaolin' in the group's martial arts-laden mythos) as a carousel of distinct MCs taking turns on the mike over beats that group mastermind the RZA seemed to have crafted from little more than strings, off-beat piano stabs and the still unproven dark matter that theoretical physicists propose is guiding our universe toward its eventual collapse.

They all marched under the same flag for an album at a time, then the individual members — Meth, GZA, RZA, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, U-God, Inspectah Deck and Masta Killa — would set loose for their own solo albums that were of an unusually impeccable level of quality. On their own they were dynamos but it was when brought together that you got first-listen classics like ‘C.R.E.A.M.,' ‘The Mystery of Chessboxin'' or ‘Triumph,' which is almost certainly the most compelling nine-verse, chorus-free five-plus minutes in rap history.

All of that to say that when you get the vast bulk of Wu-Tang Clan together on record and especially on stage it's a pretty big deal. I mean, how do you fit Voltron onto the outside stage at Emo's? It's hard to imagine a persona as huge as Ghostface Killah being contained backstage there, never mind the entire group and a contingent that'll probably number in the dozens.

But that's what's going to happen Saturday night when the Wu-Fest Tour comes to town with every member save for the deceased ODB and RZA, who is directing a movie in China and probably won't be able to sneak back.

So what you'll have is roughly 80 percent of one of rap's most storied groups — and its four top-line lyricists in Ghostface, Meth, Raekwon and GZA — on hand trading verses on Wu anthems, dropping in solo member hits when possible and all in all clobbering a crowd for whom such a gathering probably seemed silly to even ponder until it was announced that, yes ‘This is happening!'

For perspective on what an occasion this show will be, consider this: in just the past two years, more than half of the Wu-Tang Clan and all of its biggest names have made solo appearances in Austin, most of them well received, save for a couple yawners by GZA, but none coming close to qualifying as an ‘event.'

Meanwhile, the initial announcement of the Wu-Tang reunion posted last month on Austin360.com has been shared on Facebook more than 150 times, compared with a big time news item like local music icon Willie Nelson getting busted for pot possession that has been shared only 20 times.

So people are talking, and they're talking about what's going to happen when those seven men and probably more parade on stage and the stark snare snap of ‘Protect Ya Neck' comes booming from the speakers, sharp enough to cut the crowd in half.

If they wanted to, they could get Phish-y with it and hold forth for three hours or more. They'll get just over one. It won't be nearly enough.

Wu-Tang Clan - The Wu-Fest Tour