While festival season brought out many great acts, including The Roots themselves, I felt it rarely elicited straight magic from those veteran touring artists when they hit the massive stage. The metaphorical torch of rocking the crowd felt like it had been passed to the groundswell of rising talent that go bananas when they see capacities they previously thought unattainable – the way Childish Gambino did at Bonnaroo or The Stone Foxes did at Outside Lands Festival. Well, this Saturday, The Roots reclaimed the throne as the best live show in town…any town.
The fearsome Fallon house band executed Roots classics, a few new joints and a healthy mix of covers to an over capacity crowd at the Sunset Strip’s The House of Blues. Entering around 9:45, I caught a handful of tracks off of “How I Got Over” – including the end of the title track and “Fire” (normally accompanied by John Legend) on ground level where you could barely find place to stand. Apparently I missed Thought @ Work – but Thought’s buttery poetic verses over the new material clearly announced he was on his illa-fifth adrenaline.
If there was any question whether they were ready – their drop of the now infamous “Hear I Come” let you know America’s favorite house band from Philly via NYC had indeed come. The eruption from the floor (and the sheer volume of people) resulted in my retreat to the balcony – which proved brilliant. The view from up top showcased a crowd packed so close it was like they were trying to get a better smell of the Roots’ sweat.
Focusing on a lot of Things Fall Apart and Do You Want More?!? material for a good section of the show – from sexy bass on The Next Movement and beautiful melodies on Step Into The Realm and You Got Me to the always smooth Proceed and an amaze-balls version of Mellow My Man – it felt like it was a Roots show from a decade earlier. The bass was often so in the pocket, if you shut your eyes, you may have even thought that Hubbard was still slapping licks….except that Tuba Gooding Jr. wasn’t in the band back then and his bass drone was an undeniable highlight.
Doing 360 degree rotations and two stepping all over stage, Tuba really rocked the crowd with showmanship. Him and Captain Kirk Douglas traded stage theatrics to really entertain the packed house (as well as themselves).
They may have been the most emphatic performers on stage – although they got a challenge from Childish Gambino who made a surprise appearance during an interlude after the Mellow My Man jam. Gambino played three songs with his own band, which, at times, included ?uestlove on percussion. He came out to ‘Freaks and Geeks’ - one of his most bragadocious but nonetheless dope releases, but he closed with “Bonfire” the overnight heater that had seen its real introduction at a Paris show and on Hot 97 just earlier that week. The actor better known as Donald Glover certainly made the most of his appearance only raising my expectations for his next show and his hopefully coming soon album on Glassnote.
Gambino quickly relented the mic to the master, Mr. Trotter, or Black Thought, who shortly after the interlude orchestrated a series of amazing rock covers – from “Sweet Child O Mine” to Gil Scott Heron’s “The Bottle.” The Roots continued their stage show – with Kamaal, James Poyser and the new bassist all joining the choreographed dances – and by shows end – even Frankie Knuckles was in the dancing mix.
Myself nor the rest of the crowd wanted the show to to be over. Attendees endured to the bitter end and then hung around stage hoping to get just a second more and then to get whatever drum sticks or other items The Roots were willing to hand out (?uestlove gave away the head on one of his drums). Some even retreated to The Foundation Room where Poyser, Knuckles, Tuba Gooding Jr. and Gambino could all be found mingling with concert goers. Everyone left satisfied because it was easily the best concert House of Blues has hosted all year…