Philadelphia Hip Hop legends The Roots performed a one night show in London and, armed with a vast discography of great records the group reinforced their position as one of the best live acts in the world, leaving the rabid crowd baying for more .
One of the most notable things when watching the crowds enter was that The Roots have a diverse range of fans, their music appealing to all. From hipsters to Rastafarians, all converged in the huge venue in a mutual appreciation of good music.
With support from one of the better UK Hip-Hop artists in Kano, the atmosphere was that of excitement. Kano received a good reaction from the crowd, but it was apparent who everyone was here to see.
As The Roots entered to the bass replacing tuba the crowd exploded. Music connoisseur and drummer ?uestlove was greeted to a crescendo of appreciation seldom seen, and his elevated position on stage was warranted. With an unquestionable degree of cool he subtly dominated proceedings. Despite ?uestlove’s excellence as a performer, it was rapper and now vocalist Black Thought who really worked the crowd.
This was a fully immersive experience, in which fans were treated to a performance that was more akin to an extraordinary jam session and exhibition of musical prowess than a recital of big hits. Some songs could take a few seconds to be established, as they were often merged with the jams and Black Thought’s crowd participation.
The setlist included songs from many of their albums, with How I Got Over being the opening song, followed by The Fire (with guitarist Cap’n Kirk Douglas singing in the place of John Legend) , both from most recent record How I Got Over. They then proceeded with Mellow My Man of sophemore LP Do You Want More??!!!?!??!? Break You Off, from Phrenology, minus Musiq Soulchild, followed.
Mellow My Man was stretched over 20 minutes, including a ridiculous drum duet between ?uest and the percussionist Frankie Knuckles, in which the mad skills of the two were displayed through ?uest’s cool control of the volume. Raising his right hand while the left maintained the tight rhythm, ?uest appeared to lower and raise the volume output. It may not read particularly well, or my explanation may not do it justice, but to see it in actuality is a breathtaking display of skill. Doing this really stunned the audience into a hushed appreciation, and only heightened the fever pitch once the song was brought back ten minutes later.
The Roots are often vocal in their appreciation of their forefathers and contemporaries, and this was expressed in the tribute jam to J Dilla and their tribute to Fela Kuti. The Fela Kuti tribute felt like an embodiment of his soul and sound. The tributes continued into the encore; other hits performed were You Got Me, minus Erykah Badu, and The Next Movement, both from Things Fall Apart.
Guitarist Cap’n Kirk Douglas had a ten minute exhibition of his skills, performing vocal acrobatics and renditions of Guns N’ Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine and Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, among others.
The Roots, like all good showmen however, saved the best for last, hitting the audience with a phenomenal encore. The Seed 2.0, followed by Gil Scott Heron’s The Bottle and Move On Up by Curtis Mayfield was the perfect way to close a phenomenal show. It was specifically in the performance of The Bottle in which I became impressed by Black Thought’s singing chops, which I was pleasantly surprised by in the Fela Kuti tribute, as well as in the opening song. His flow has never been in question, and throughout the night he’d mix up ways in which he rode the beats, slowing it down some and speeding and chopping lines up in others. This versatility from Black Thought was the encapsulation of the brilliance of the show; The Roots knowing how to appeal to all the tastes of the audience while still giving something fresh yet distinctly Roots.
The band is unquestionably tight, with all members excelling and entertaining. Last of the Mohicans Kirk Douglas was high stepping and jumping about, matching expressions to guitar wails. Tuba Gooding Jr. was never stood still, providing the bass through brass while maintaining a high level of showmanship. When not playing drums, second drummer/percussionist Frankie Knuckles would serve as a hype man and interact with Black Thought, Tuba and Kirk. A highlight was during the encore when Knuckles, Tuba and Kirk would dance in synchronization behind Black Thought, then without looking, Black Thought joined in, perfectly in time with the others- still spittin’.
The quality of musicianship was unquestionable and expected, but it was the showmanship that elevated the show to that upper echelon of experiences. These tics and tricks were all fine touches but fed the crowd in a big way. What is often missed during live performances is the impression that the band themselves were having fun, but it was apparent from their entrance to their exit that The Roots wanted to and enjoyed being here. No doubt the fans did too.