Live Review: The Roots at The Paramount Theatre 4/9

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?

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2 Comments

  1. Joe Culbertson
    Posted April 13, 2009 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    I think you’re way off with this review. Although I wasn’t at the Seattle show, I caught the Roots in Eugene Saturday. Maybe hip hop “purists” like you would like an hour and a half of dj and drums only:) but for the rest of us, The Roots have made the genre accessible, while pulling in lots of new fans. Not only that, but their live show, which combined dancy grooves, impressive instrumental skills, and great rhymes, was more than any show attempting to do just one of those three could ever be.
    I can’t speak to how this tour compares to previous ones, since this is the first Roots show I’ve been to, but to suggest that the band’s range detracts from their “hip hop cred”--sounds like they just didn’t play your favorite songs that night--too bad.
    Still, thanks for the review, and the great pictures

  2. c note
    Posted April 14, 2009 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    “I can’t speak to how this tour compares to previous ones”

    Isn’t this the sole purpose of the article?

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