How does a dyed-in-the-wool hip-hop fan like me wait until 2012 to see his very first Roots show? I guess it’s been a combination of limited resources, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and just plain bad luck (I was supposed to see them at the Apollo a few years back, but my ticket connection fell through.) So when it was announced that The Roots would be playing Boston’s House of Blues on the day after Christmas, there was no question that I was going to make that show-come hell or high water.
Expectations were high, and The Roots delivered…and then some.
Philly’s finest have long had the distinction of being one of music (not just hip-hop)’s premiere live bands, and they more than lived up to that reputation. Supporting their solid latest album, Undun, Black Thought and company set their phasers to stun and proceeded to rock the shit out of a sold-out crowd for two hours plus.
It may seem like a conundrum of sorts, but The Roots played one of the most precise shows I’ve ever seen (you can tell Questlove is a taskmaster of James Brown proportions.) The band jumped from song to song without a lot of breaks or banter. However, the show never appeared calculated or perfunctory. Tons of fun appeared to be had (somewhat in contrast to the more dour tone of The Roots’ last several albums.) Black Thought is a dope emcee no matter how you define the word. His lyricism, strong as it is on the band’s albums, took on another dimension in a live session, as the tempo was sped up on many songs, requiring him to rap significantly faster. On songs like “Thought @ Work” it seemed like he was damn near rhyming at the speed of sound. He also served as a more traditional Master of Ceremonies-directing traffic and providing seamless transitions between songs.
Individually, every single component of the show was fantastic. Each member is so insanely musically talented, but the stars of the show from that perspective were unquestionably Captain Kirk Douglas on guitar and Damon “Tuba Gooding Jr.” Bryson on…well, guess. Douglas did a healthy amount of singing in addition to some mighty fine axe work that culminated in a version of Guns ‘n Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” that garnered some of the night’s biggest applause. Bryson, handling an instrument that’s visually and sonically imposing, performed with unbelievable joy and abandon, dancing across the stage…WITH. A. TUBA. Also worth mentioning, the presence of guests Dice Raw and Bilal (who, just by showing up, made me want a follow-up to Airtight’s Revenge ASAP.)
The set was almost equally balanced between each of their albums-with selections going all the way back to “Proceed.” The tracks from Undun blended seamlessly with their earlier work, and the covers ranged from the aforementioned G’N R song to an equally impressive cover of Gil-Scott Heron’s “The Bottle,” featuring a singing Black Thought-who should maybe join his homeboy Phonte in the singing/rapping double duty game. Shit, I’d buy an R&B album from ‘Riq.
Bottom line-there are not enough superlatives that can describe how good this show was. Not only did the show make me forget the 45 minutes I spent standing in the crowd, looking at my phone and getting salty because the band wasn’t on yet, but the show made me come away with a new appreciation for a band that was already on my favorites list. I’ve seen hundreds of shows in my time-and this was easily Top 10.
I spent my Christmas home in NYC, and while we were eating dinner, my uncle asked me if I thought there would ever be a time when I didn’t have such a strong personal investment in music. I’ve been buying records and following the Billboard charts since I was in first grade, and despite the addition of a healthy dose of cynicism, it burns as strong now as it did back in 1982. Thanks to shows like the one The Roots put on Monday night, that fire is unlikely to dim or be snuffed out anytime soon.
Here’s a copy of the setlist from Setlist.fm. I was too busy jammin’ to take notes.