Across the festival the inaugural Restless Natives fest will and has played host to everything from The Hotelier’s Brand New-is-just-not-sad-enough sadcore to Tim “4AD-endorsed space noises” Hecker, but Saturday night is time for a victory lap as hip-hop’s premiere storyteller rolling into town.
It’s fair to assume most churches don’t smell quite as strongly of weed and Red Stripe as Saint Luke’s does on this particular evening, but once you step inside you realise what an impressive job the new owners have done.
Under stark red lights, the maximalist electro rnb of Law Holt offers an icy bath to plunge into.
With stained glass windows and an organ touring imposingly over the stage, there’s an uncompromising air to the venue that complements the music, though the Jack Daniels drapes seem a little incongruous; alas corporate hegemony creeps in everywhere
Having appeared alongside the likes of Young Fathers, there’s a militancy to Holt that serves to amplify her already powerful voice, clipping syllables tight and spitting them out.
It’s not exactly a set to build hype for the main event, but as bass ripples up through the floor and mics expel feedback, it’s impressively righteous.
Setting up a new venue so close to the legendary Barrowland Ballroom is always going to be a bold decision, and while the sound tonight is intermittent, Saint Luke’s’ white-washed balconies and churchly accoutrements conjure an interesting atmosphere.
There’s plenty of time for people watching and checking out the furnishings, as the main act is almost an hour late on stage.
Roadies check and recheck laptop connections, kids in Wu Tang gear pop gang signs and the first signs of booing breakout before tonight’s headliner finally takes to the stage.
Often considered one of hip hop’s finest storytellers, and unlike much of his former posse still successfully creating artistically valid new material, Ghostface Killah, retains a lustre that has sloughed off some of his less creative fellow Clan members, with his recent collaboration with Canadian jazz-funk band BADBADNOTGOOD demonstrating a desire to push the boundaries of his chosen scene forward.
Sadly however, tonight is reserved for a brief greatest hits set, with recent material jettisoned for sprints through a handful of Wu Tang classics, often truncated to just Ghost’s verse and a snatch of chorus.
Sometimes this works unexpectedly well: for the killer cut ‘Protect Ya Neck’ he invites three wannabe MCs up on stage to deliver verses originally dropped by the likes of Ol’ Dirty Bastard only to see a surprisingly competent rendition spat by a man from the Gorbals, whose appearance suggests he might have had just as eventful an upbringing as the Wu clan themselves
Other times this approach is less successful however: ‘CREAM’ only gets one verse and hook, which is a shame given that its chant of “dolla dolla bill y’all” may well be Wu Tang’s most lasting contribution to the hip hop lexicon, while the always popping ‘Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit’ sees a roomful of hands in the air, but loses momentum by the time the second verse comes around.
Backed by Wu Affiliate Killah Priest and a selection of rather corny DJ samples, Ghostface’s streetstyle is intact in an oversized hoodie, but he never really pushes himself out of his comfort zone, neglecting his recent material in favour of sure-fire but increasingly safe crowd pleasers and falling back on clichéd “I want to see a thousand phones in the air” stage banter.
A hit with the Wu Tang hardcore, Restless Natives deserve a ton of credit for the spectacle of hip hop’s own Iron Man throwing down in a converted east end church, even if it is not quite the rap-god throwdown that it could have been.
Words: Max Sefton