Roots keep growing
By MARY DICKIE
The Roots have a reputation as one of the best live bands on the planet, and they certainly lived up to it Wednesday night with a spectacular, multi-dimensional show at the Kool Haus.
The Philadelphia band, one of the few hip-hop acts to use live instruments in concert, transcended that genre and many others, travelling freely across the musical spectrum by incorporating songs and sounds from many eras into their own music.
The band started in the late '80s, when rapper Black Thought and drummer ?uestlove met at a Philadelphia performing arts high school and began making hip-hop together.
That fertile relationship between the words and the live drums is still the centre of The Roots' sound, even as it's expanded to include many more instruments and voices.
Live, ?uestlove's brilliant, jazz-influenced, compulsively watchable drumming is the centrepiece of the show, although Black Thought keeps up an insistent pace with his innovative word flow, and each one of the other players -- at the Kool Haus they included guitarist "Captain" Kirk Douglas, bassist Leonard "Hub" Hubbard and keyboardist Kamal Gray -- can produce virtuosic solos at the drop of a hat.
The Roots' much-anticipated new album, Game Theory, isn't out until the end of next month, but they previewed some of the new songs, including a rawer, more aggressive version of the first single, Don't Feel Right -- a catchy song bemoaning the state of the world that's available for free download on ?uestlove's MySpace site.
Live hip-hop performances can be jagged, disjointed affairs, but The Roots created a beautifully orchestrated show that wove their old and new songs -- among them Stay Cool, Mellow My Man, Don't Say Nuthin', Star, Do You Want More and their biggest hit, the Grammy-winning You Got Me -- seamlessly in with pieces of other hip-hop classics as well as bits borrowed from Ray Charles, Funkadelic, Chic, Sly Stone, John Coltrane and many others.
The group became a muscular funk outfit, then a jazz combo, then a rock band without seeming to take a breath.
There was a Hendrixian rock guitar solo from Douglas, a bass solo from Hubbard that started out jazzy before turning screamingly metallic, and an amazing, extended and yet never boring drum solo from ?uestlove that was more art than rock, changing tempos and intensities, sometimes quiet and thoughtful, sometimes thrillingly fast and furious.
And Black Thought was an endlessly dynamic frontman, keeping the crowd at a fever pitch throughout the show.
Is this band redefining hip-hop, or eliminating the need for genres altogether?
Either way, they're proving that they are capable of virtually anything.
Wednesday night, Kool Haus
Sun Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5