$10 Bill: Roots Live @ Highline Ballroom
Sometimes your expectations can be larger than reality. Sometimes when
people project larger than life, it fizzles when you see it up close. The Roots
have a reputation as the worlds greatest Hip-Hop band (with apologies to
Stetsasonic), and as such when you are going to see them for the first time, in
the rain, on a cooler than normal night, with the line is down the block, and
the 11:30 show doesnt even begin until 1 A.M., you cant help but think to yourself,
these m*****s better be good. I was in for the surprise of my Hip-Hop life.
After a spirited set by the Street Sweeper Social Club (feat. Boots
Riley and Tom Morello), ?uestlove and the band finally took the stage. The show
begins with the drum solo. Boom-Bap, Boom-Boom-Boom Bap. A couple Tss Tss from the cymbals. Then ?uest
is joined by a horn. Its a musical
marriage for a few measures. Then Morello returns to the stage, guitar in tow for
a threesome of rhythm.
The trio jams in a symphony of anarchy; the beautiful bump joins the
force of the horn and merge with the rage of the guitar. It is at once kinetic,
dynamic and devoid of Hip-Hop loop. One
way rhythm, in unison, assaulting our ears; a Radio Raheemian clash of love for
noise and hate for convention. The trio became a quartet and the quartet grew
into a full out jam session as the keys chime in and more guitars join in the
orgy of melody. And we havent heard any words yet. This is not your fathers
music. Its its bastard sons. Beautifully ugly. And then, there was Thought.
Its clear who the star of the show is. Mr. Trotter is both a dominant presence
and another blended instrument; Black Fonzy cool, silently holding court before
pouncing into action. The Roots do a tremendous job of creating tension and
anticipation musically and Black Thought took the stage at precisely the right
Standing at 5 7, Black doesnt take up much space physically, but
once he gets going he becomes the dominant instrument on stage. Smooth and assertive in voice, and clear in
projection and diction. Its clear that hes either performing or practicing
constantly, because he weaves in and out of familiar rhymes with music behind
him that is ever-changing and almost never the version we hear on the album. That in itself is impressive, but more so is
how in control of his pace and breath he is.
There is no pausing for a hype man to catch breath nor any lazily
handing over of a song to the audience.
Black Thought is in possession and control of his own music.
The Roots as a band, and Black Thought in particular are masters of music,
blending and beating the rhythm; ghetto romancing it, embracing and
retreating. It is raw passion. It is at
once Bleek Gilliams wet dream and Shadows love affair: playing what they want
and moving the crowd. Thought is as fluid as water flowing over stone, effortlessly
adapting familiar standards to new interpolation.
Amanda Diva popped in for a guest appearance, as is convention for jam
sessions. She went into a rhyme that was probably better than any flow Ive
heard from her previously. A solid performance, but on this night, it was
little more than filler.
Then the real fun began. You would associate The Roots with groups of a
similar aesthetic, so when you prepare for guests, you imagine Q-Tip, or
Common or Kweli. Not this time, Jack.
Buckshot took the stage along with General Steele and Heltah Skeltah for that
classic Brooklyn grit over a full band. The crowd went bonkers, and it was just
the sort of surprise that takes a Hip-Hop show to that yoooo son you missed it
Following the Boot Camp beat down, Roots affiliate Dice Raw took to the
stage to continue his assault with back and forth gymnastics between himself
and Thought. They did a rendition of The Lesson from the classic Do You Want More? that totally abandoned
the beat-boxed bang of the original to the point where it was almost unrecognizable. But that was a good thing. It was a
reflection of improvisation that is rarely display in these days of prewritten
Let me say this. I have seen many Hip-Hop shows, in many venues, and I
have seen many performances, but I would have to say that this was the most
riveting Hip-Hop related show I have ever witnessed. It was the exact opposite
of any show you have ever seen. The DJ took a back seat to the instrumentation.
The MC knew all his words and you could hear them clearly, and he didnt depend
on you to fill in the gaps. No hype man and not one person on stage that didnt
have a purpose. Its everything that
Hip-Hop should aspire to be musically.
Black Thought is MC of the highest order and hes even better on stage
than on wax. ?uestlove leads a musical ensemble cast that is devoid of ego and
perfectly fused and determined to play as one.
If you get the chance, you should go see The Roots live. It will be an
education in music, a great show, and you will certainly get your moneys