photos by Kyle Johnson
review by DJ Marc Sense
Who are The Roots? Are they a hip-hop band? Or a band that plays hip-hop?
Traditionally one of the most dynamic live music acts of its era, The Roots seem to have strayed too far from their hip-hop origins for an overly eclectic format teetering on the fence of mass appeal and music snobbery. During their set at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre last week, the seven-piece band covered Guns N’ Roses “Sweet Child Of Mine,” only to close out the show with Kool G. Rap & DJ Polo’s “Men At Work.” One minute, they were schooling the crowd about Fela Kuti, the next volleying call-and-responses to Gary Glitter’s “Rock And Roll.”
Black Thought, the group’s sole emcee, seems to have faded into an afterthought of the band. Arguably one hip-hop’s top ten MCs of the modern era, he finds himself in the role of a situational bullpen pitcher, spitting viciously only when called upon and absolutely necessary. Instead, the antics of electric guitarist Captain Kirk tried to pass for showmanship. Unfortunatley, his vocal attempts at George Benson failed onstage while strobe lights drilled and nearly blinded the audience. Tuba Gooding Jr. undoubtedly did his thing with his monstrous instrument and provided flashes of why people continue to love The Roots.
The group has evolved drastically in its sound and in its membership — with former members outnumbering current members 9-7. Only Questlove (drums, production) and Thought remain from the Philadelphia-based crew that formed as early as 1987. With a discography thicker than a milkshake and numbering eight albums deep, The Roots certainly possess an arsenal of hits at their disposal. Many consider Do You Want More?!!!??! , Illadelph Halflife, Things Fall Apart, and Game Theory as hip-hop masterpieces. Such work has cemented the crew as the most successful hip-hop act to create and perform within the band format.
Despite rolling with the ever popular “You Got Me,” “The Seed (2.0),” and more, this Roots showing paled in comparison to the one given less than a year at Neumos, where, stripped down to just Quest and Thought, the two delivered an impromptu clinic in the art of the DJ-MC formula that has often accounted for hip-hop music’s vaunted classic status of hip-hop music.
As a group, it’s clear that its orchestrator Questlove has let his ensemble run a little too wild in drawn out renditions of its own original material and covers alike.
Perhaps it’s time for a return to The Roots?