The Roots | 04.18.08

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Think of the huge party scene from the film "PCU," but with The Roots' Black Thought and ?uestlove stepping off the tour bus instead of George Clinton and P-Funk. 


Photo: Todd Owyoung 


w/ Illphonics

Webster University

The Roots aren't your typical hip-hop group. Most groups in the genre don't use live instrumentation; even those that do aren't sporting, as The Roots are, a vocalist/guitarist/saxophonist, a percussionist, an iconic drummer with undisputed chops (and a signature afro), and, of all things, a tuba player. Webster University in St. Louis isn't, apparently, your typical college. Most suburban Midwestern universities wouldn't bring in a legendary, internationally renowned political hip-hop group to play for its students. Fitting, then, that these atypical institutions would come together in such spectacular fashion as The Roots rocked the Grant Gymnasium on the campus of Webster.

View shots from the show.

It was a show that at times felt like a particularly well-attended frat party. Think of the huge party scene from the film PCU, but with The Roots' Black Thought and ?uestlove stepping off the tour bus instead of George Clinton and P-Funk. 

Black Thought and ?uestlove, MC and drummer respectively, may be the most visible members, but The Roots are a strong, cohesive unit-as exemplified by this show's perfect, segmented beginning. Each member of the group entered individually and began playing, starting with Kirk "Captain Kirk"Douglas, who crept onto the shadowy stage and began the set with a swooning, sultry saxophone melody. As each member entered, they added to the sonic painting, and it deepened and tightened, creating a tapestry of color and sound, all swirling around the saxophone. Once all the players were in place, the mixreached its culmination, and Black Thought stormed onstage as the band transitioned seamlessly into The Roots' classic "I Can't Help It."

It was a stirring beginning to an evening of highlights: the work of sousaphonist Damon "Tuba Gooding Jr" Bryson, who spent the two-hour set careening around the stage like some sort of mutant, neo-urban version of Sousa himself (or hip-hop tuba's Angus Young); a late-set drum and percussion solo that climaxed with ?uestlove pounding his kit with colorfully-lit drumsticks on the dark stage; the slinky, rumbling "I Will Not Apologize," from the new album, Rising Down, which seems to come out of south Philly by way of steamy jungle and smoke-filled jazz club; a whirlwind 20-minute medley of nearly every rap classic from the last three decades (including "Just A Friend"), led by the fast fingers and high spirit of keyboardist Kamal Gray.

Before that long medley, Black Thought rhetorically asked the crowd if hip-hop was dead; after, he said it wasn't dead... just on vacation. That may or may not be true, but one thing is for sure: The Roots are hard at work, laboring to tend the tree of hip-hop from the bottom up. | John Shepherd


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