I’ve got a confession to make. I’ve never really been into The Roots. “What a colossal oversight! (You might be thinking) They’re renowned for being a legendary live act!” To which I’d reply, “Well, quite” which is why despite only owning one Roots LP, I still went to see them. And when Tuba Gooding Jr. (possibly not his real name) led the rest of the band onstage with his Sousaphone (a piece of brass so massive it makes a tuba look like a kazoo) and the band kicked the first track, I began to wonder why I didn’t own more Roots albums – a feeling that lasted for – well, about the first five or so numbers in their set. After a while though, (some time later when things got a lot more jazzy and a lot more noodly) I slowly began to remember why I haven’t often made a Roots purchase – mainly because I’d rather chew my own fucking arm off than listen to jazzy noodling. Having said that, by the end of the gig, I had – like a woman in a shoe shop – changed my mind again and made a mental note to check out the band’s back catalogue once more.
All of this preamble lets me off having to identify most of the tracks that were being played as I didn’t have a clue and still don’t. Luckily I had a mate with me who owns every Roots LP and occasionally he’d go, “Yeah that one’s off Do You Want More? or, “That one’s off Phrenology,” or, “That one’s off Things Fall Apart.” Interestingly he didn’t much (if at all) say – “That one’s off Rising Down,” (the band’s latest LP), sagely pointing out that ?uestlove et al do so many guest collaborations in the studio that it must narrow their options somewhat when it comes to playing live. And ‘play’ live they most certainly did – seamlessly morphing the first track of their set into the Incredible Bong Band’s Apache and later Black Sabbath’s Ironman. Subsequently they inserted a few bars of Kool And The Gang’s Jungle Boogie into another track. On You Got Me, guitarist Captain Kirk Douglas (again, possibly not his real name) stood in for Erykah Badu’s part, which was both amusing and actually pretty damn convincing. And then there was ?uestlove’s drum solo – which eventually became a drum battle as percussionist Knuckles entered the fray. There were few (if any) of the clichés of between tracks repartee you might expect at a hip-hop gig with barely a ‘Put your hands in the air’ all night, though Black Thought’s rhyming was constant and prodigious. In fact the whole thing from the band’s manner and improvisational jams to the lighting probably had more in common with something like a Miles Davis’ performance from the Bitches Brew era.
If anything characterised The Roots live it was the effortlessness with which they did everything. They never seemed anything other than immensely relaxed and were clearly having at least as good a time as the packed out venue. This was, in other words, an effortlessness that only comes from both years of playing live as a unit coupled with a substantial helping of pure talent. And if anything caught this effortlessness perfectly it was the way they the final track of the encore found the band’s entire line-up playing faultlessly whilst dancing in formation from one side of the stage to the other their cheesy grins mirroring those of the crowd.
The Roots – Myspace