06 December 2008
Things Fall Together
5 December 2008
Out of the darkness steps a large figure, I assume, in fancy dress. A massive head-piece glints in the ambient light. The crowd is silent for a moment before the intake of breath and rapturous exhalation. The giant glint jumps to the front, a deep rumble ensues. The monster, the swamp creature is... A tuba.
This is The Roots, perhaps the world's best-know rap band. An actual band. Unlike most big hip-hop acts, there are no DJs acting as a glorified iTunes playlist. There is Damon Bryson instead, wearing what looks like the internal plumbing of an entire high-school on his shoulder, dancing as best he can while he fills the theatre with a deep, young shaking bellow. Behind him is F Knuckles, who dances behind a collection of electric-green bongos and drum pads, he wears a red cap with a giant "P" on it. I assume it has something to do with Philadelphia. On a little platform, stage-left, is the keyboardist Kamal Gray. Inbetween Kamal and Mr Knuckles are guitarist Captain Kirk and bassist Owen Biddle (the lone white boy). But its centre-stage, where MC Black Thought (dress, appropriately, in all-black) and drummer ?usetlove roam. Black Thought is built like a boxer, and wears a cap that gives hims a menacing, growling look. Behind him, though, is probably one of the world's most recognisable drummers. His massive, perfectly symmetrical afro and his world weary political musings have made him the celebrity drummer of note. He's like Ringo. But he can really drum, and he's not stupid-looking.
For me, and for the 1000 or so other people filling this hall, this had been a long time coming. The opening act, Master Shorty, was pretty terrible. The house DJ was pretty boring. We had waited outside in the rain and near freezing temperatures. The beer was expensive, and the more time one spends drinking Guinness the more one realises is smells a lot like mushrooms.
They began, I seem to remember, with Here I Come (off Game Theory) and played, basically without a break for the next two hours. It was a marathon, epic, Herculean performance. There was a drum vs percussion solo, bass freak-outs and sax virtuosity. At one stage, all musicians not confined to an immovable instrument, took to line dancing around the stage. Songs that featured guest collaborations, like You Got Me were reworked and revamped - less subtle but now more like a wall of sound and melody. Black Thought was stronger than his sizable biceps, and prowled the stage, demanding more from the audience, making sure every syllable was eeked out, word-perfect.
Do You Want More?!!!??! the cry for an encore, an inevitable build-up explodes (via the modestly simple lighting) and culminates with The Seed 2.0, arguably The Roots' biggest hit. Its actually better live. They are better live. ?uestlove is the coolest drummer in history. The Roots is the most fun, funny and silly hip-hop act I've ever seen.
Ok, they're the only one I've ever seen. But I'm fairly sure (thanks to Youtube) no one else comes close.