Captain Kirk, the guitarist for The Roots. See the full slideshow.
Philadelphia natives The Roots played in LPAC on Saturday as this semester’s Large Scale Event. The Roots’ unique blend of live-instrumented, jam-oriented hip hop was well-received by Swatties; although there were a fair number of empty seats in the theater, that was mainly because there were so many standing up front. Opener Hezekiah was also fairly good, though he couldn’t compare to the Grammy-winning group that’s also been hailed by Rolling Stone as being among the best twenty contemporary live acts. One student referred to the performance as “the ultimate,” another as “the best LSE ever.” Even students who don’t generally enjoy hip hop called it “much more enjoyable than I expected.”
Hezekiah, also from Philadelphia, started off the night with an energetic and skilled performance; his lyrical delivery was solid and the beats — delivered by DJ Static but probably also written in part by Hezekiah himself — good. The most memorable songs were “Psycho Chicks,” — its chorus being a call-and-response with the audience along the lines of “You psycho! / You psycho! / Too psycho for me!” — and the next song, “I’m Single Now,” in which two female audience members were pulled up on stage to briefly dance with the rapper. Overall, his performance was good, but nothing particularly memorable.
After a brief interlude, The Roots came on stage. The core band — MC Black Thought (Tariq Trotter), drummer ?uestlove (pronounced “Questlove”, real name Ahmir Thompson), guitarist Captain Kirk (Kirk Douglas…no, not that Kirk Douglas), keyboardist Kamal Gray, and percussionist F Knuckles (Frank Walker) — was joined by sousaphone player “Tuba Gooding Junior” and bassist Owen Biddle. The Roots generally tour with at least one musician on brass; Tuba Gooding Junior was able to hold his own with the rest of the group’s talented musicians, laying out more impressive jams than this reviewer knew a tuba was capable of playing. Owen Biddle is now in his third month of touring with the group; longtime bassist Leonard “Hub” Hubbard abruptly left the group at the end of August of this year, to the dismay of Roots fans everywhere. Biddle seemed a capable replacement, though he was certainly far less noticeable in the music than was his predecessor, and looked less comfortable on stage.
The Roots began by playing a wide sampling of their songs, ranging from their most recent album, Game Theory, to their second album, Do You Want More?!!!??!, though there were no tracks from their more laid-back debut Organix. All of this material was excellent, though it was strange to hear Black Thought doing raps that were originally performed by former member Malik B. — particularly when one of the lines began “I’m Malik B….” After this section, the band played covers of various songs, mostly hip hop but also such songs as “Rock and Roll” (“The Hey Song”) and “This Is Why I’m Hot” (which both this reviewer and, in all likelihood, the Roots would classify under pop).
Then it was time for the “half-time show,” during which the sub-group “Go Get A Late Pass,” consisting of ?uestlove, Captain Kirk, and Tuba Gooding Jr, played a lengthy jam based on Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War.” ?uestlove introduced the section by talking about how Bob Dylan, unlike most artists today, actually protested against things he didn’t believe in, and talked briefly about the current political situation. Then they launched into the music, which began with Captain Kirk singing the lyrics while playing “The Star Spangled Banner”, and then featured some great improvisation and superb solos from each musician on stage.
The rest of the band returned to the stage and played their own songs again, jamming off of them and not stopping very often but still sticking more or less to how the songs appeared on the album. After this section ended they left the stage, but were soon called back for an encore by the cheering crowd. The first song they played was one of their more popular songs, the pop-oriented “The Seed (2.0).” They then played a few of their other recent songs before doing their standard closer, in which the band lays down a backing beat while Black Thought introduces each member of the band, who then does a quick solo. After they finally stopped playing and the cheering subsided, the band collected their instruments and threw drumsticks at the crowd. ?uestlove sketched a self-portrait onto a drum skin and threw it Frisbee-style into the audience, while Owen Biddle took off his sweatshirt to reveal a Swarthmore T-shirt.