Sweaty co-eds in democratic blue-jeans packed the same hall where the students often take standardized tests; a few profs peppered the crowd. Those in the back rows had gone home, often to the outer boroughs, to doll themselves up for the evening; those in the front rows were smellier, but had a better view of Questlove, Black Thought, Rahzel and the rest of the world-famous Roots crew.
This deft ensemble was among the most confident this writer has ever witnessed. The Buddha-like Questlove carried a relentless backbeat, fusing the selections effortlessly. Black Thought played the charismatic wordsmith. And Rahzel took his turn as unlikely, but welcome, hypeman.
The intstrumentation is the cornerstone of their show. Interpolations of The Meters’ “Hand-Clap Song” as well as funk classics like “Jungle Boogie” and “Good Times” were playfully meshed with The Roots’ sizeable back catalog. At one point, gospel music was invoked; another memorable moment was a 60s sort of Sam-the-Sham Woolly-Boolly groove that befuddled the gentlemen in the audience, but caused a revival of beach-blanket dancing by the ladies (this would be a welcome summer fad, guaranteed).
Questlove’s drum-solo, which utilized mics fed through stereo-echo and flanger effects was like listening to a Leslie-speaker on acid; or, for non-Hammond organ enthusiasts, the effect could be likened to putting your ear near a railroad tie and slowing down the moment when the locomotive shatters your ear-drum so that you might notice the Doppler Effect on the pitch. I am happy to report that Questlove’s racous efforts were enough to knock his pick clean out of his afro.
Hubbard and Kirk also performed wandering solos on their respective axes (bass and guitar). Hub focused on juxtaposing smooth and static while Kirk flashed Mexican-wrestling-mask boxer shorts and sang over his licks (perhaps to counter Rahzel’s extrahomosapien ability to sing while scratching his own beatbox – a feat he demonstrated with his legendary version of “If Your Mother Only Knew”).
A medley near the end of the show consisted of instrumental visits to Hip-Hop greats such as the Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, Biggie, Salt n Pepa and the Chi-Lites (or rather, the hook from Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love”). This portion gave keyboardist Kamal (who sported copious gold bling a la early LL) ample opportunities to throw his weight around, nailing the keys on “Method Man,” for example.
In short, The Roots endured and blew away. They performed an exhausting show that clocked in at around two hours. If you got the skrilla in yo underwear drawer, dig it out and throw down for one of their shows at Radio City in May (especially the show on the 18th, which features guests Nas, Common and Kweli). If you miss them this time around, then don’t sleep, and catch the Chinatown bus to Boston or some shit.