Despite the fact that Toad’s Place is barely a minute’s walk from the gates of Old Campus, the club/venue/cesspool is a culture unto itself. I’ve seen a solid variety of venues in my concert-going history — from sport stadiums to rock clubs to basements — but never have I experienced the bizarre pastiche that is Toad’s. The architect must have designed a few roller rinks and chain Mexican restaurants prior to plopping this awkward structure in New Haven.
Waiting in line to be patted down before entrance, I started to develop a sense of the crowd’s demographics. The immediate cue would have read: Yale student, Yale student, four guys discussing what drugs they had concealed, pair of bros (likely fans of Talib Kweli and Common who never actually listened to Wu-Tang), Will Schlesinger and about 10 indigenous New Haven residents. Not surprisingly, the crowd skewed old: Method Man himself is 38. There’s a lot to be said for the genuine Meth and Red supporters who fell in love with Wu-Tang in the days of “Enter the 36 Chambers,” but the vibe was undeniably a little stale.
By the time I made it through the doors, a pair of awkward “white rappers” (in quotes not to exaggerate the white, but to lament the fact that they were that stereotypical) was onstage, performing a set that was as archetypal as it was embarrassing. The first noticeable couplet included a “Craigslist killer/Ben Stiller” rhyme. Culturally-conscious rap does not mean paraphrasing E! News. The next chorus boasted, “Spit that, shit that, make you want to quit rap,” and alluded to “subliminal rhymes.” Just when the set could not have gotten more offensive, a crossover country/rock beat dropped, and the artists asked if we were “ready for a revolution,” imploring us to put our fists in the air. I chose not to raise my fist, in silent rebellion, trying to strike that moment from my mental record.
With a flourish of red lights and a puff of dro, the headliners strutted onto the stage. The crowd erupted: Previously unimpressed audience members emerged from Toad’s dingy corners. Meth and Red led off the set with material from the bass-heavy, party-minded 1999 release, “Blackout!” Many members of the crowd knew every word, but much better represented were those who could finish a line here or there, paying homage with their head-nods. The duo matched the crowd’s enthusiasm, often breaking the fourth wall to take hits from fans’ blunts and spliffs. Although much of Wu-Tang’s material was text-centric, Method Man and Redman seem to have aligned themselves firmly with the celebratory side of rap, and their performance was more of a party than a concert.
The two rappers have been in the game for so long and done so much in that time that simply the idea of Method Man and Redman performing a show is exciting. As the set progressed, though, it became clear that the excitement associated with the idea of the performance had eclipsed the performance itself. Meth and Red even dated themselves, frequently quizzing the crowd: “Let’s see who knows this one!” or “How many of ya’ll know this shit!” Although somewhat charming and playful, their fixation raised the question: Are Method Man and Redman still relevant? Unfortunately, the concert did little to suggest any definitive answer.
Method Man and Redman are great performers and their material is interesting enough, but unless “How High 2” is released in the near future, their predominantly older fans aren’t going to do much for their significance in the rap game. The proverbial joint of these two rap fixtures’ popularity is certain to become a roach.