The stage was dark, with only a massive drum set on a riser at the back. Amazing, considering the amount of equipment used by the previous band, Gym Class Heroes. A single spot glowed on the giant ROOTS tapestry at the rear of the stage. There was only the dull background noise from the sold out crowd waiting for the headliners to appear.
An incredibly deep base thumping began,not a bass guitar, but resonating on such a low register as to vibrate the brass handrail in front of me in the loge (first row-center, I might add). What the hell was that? It played music, but,the glint of a huge horn bell emerged from under the tapestry at the back of the stage, and a shiny silver Sousaphone appeared, playing a signature Roots hip-hop beat. Quickly following was ?uestLove, climbing immediately into the vortex of his drum set. The rest of The Roots ensemble followed from behind the tapestry, joining Tuba Gooding, Jr.’s beat: F Knuckles (percussion), Capt. Kirk (guitar), Kamal (keyboards), Owen (bass), followed by the lead vocalist and one of the originators of the Roots (with ?uestLove) Black Thought. A very cool way to do a show lead-in,
Cooler still was the obvious lack of amps, wires, or encumbrance of any kind tethering their instruments. This allowed the members to roam the stage (not unlike John McCain at a Presidential Debate), interacting with each other and the audience throughout the session. Wireless technology has been around for a while at concerts, but typically not used to drive the kind of giant Klipsch units hanging out over the audience throughout the theater. And the sound was balanced, crisp, and clean,quite unusual for a hip-hop concert.
Of course, the Roots is not your typical hip-hop group. They deliver more of a fusion jazz sound, layered over classic hip-hop beats, and played with live instrumentation. There are no DJ’s or pre-recorded tracks or scratching,just complex sounds behind a talented rapper snapping off politically-charged verse. (On that subject, both bands made a point of admonishing the audience to vote, and even had clean-cut college kids with clipboards available to register those who weren”t. Nice.)
Since their formation in 1993, the Roots have garnered critical acclaim and influenced many rap and R&B acts since. They are not what you would call big — or even mainstream — but as a writer for Rolling Stone said last year at the release of their Game Theory CD, “,the best underappreciated group in hip-hop today.”
Back to the Sousaphone,he played the entire set with the band, and added immensely to their layered style. I wouldn”t have believed it, but his base lines when played in contra to the electric base heightened the sound to a new level. And as mentioned before, the entire band enjoyed dancing (and climbing) around the stage while playing; and none more than TGJ and his Sousa. What a workout,I was exhausted just watching.
Another touchstone of a Roots concert is the fact that they play without stopping — often for two or more hours. Each song seamlessly blends into the next, with occasional lengthy solo riffs by certain members, allowing the others to rest for a moment. And they play to the end, with no encore,the lights come up, they put their instruments down and accept their bows, and then wander about the stage, squatting and talking and personally interacting with the audience huddled in the mosh pit.
Having been to their concerts before, I knew more of what to expect, and didn”t particularly want to be in the mosh pit. So I planned a different strategy. The loge is available as general seating at the Tabernacle, where the view of the stage and the sound are unmatched. But there are only about 25 of those seats, so getting one is nearly impossible. You good ol” Unkle T scored first row-center loge. And the sound WAS incredible. And not only was I sitting down, but had a ledge for my beer. Epic.