After spending last week at South by Southwest seeing tons of small shows on tiny bar stages, a sold-out First Avenue felt like a concert arena last night for The Roots.
Why are you looking at a picture of a photo pass instead of a picture of The Roots? Because First Ave.'s never given me a photo pass before, so I wasn't expecting one and thus didn't bring my camera. It's too bad, because there were tons of photo ops.
First Avenue was on its game last night. The lights and sound were better than any other show I've seen there in about a year. Though I regrettably missed the opening acts—Minneapolis rapper Muja Messiah and California hip-hoppers Zion 1—I was there when The Roots came on. The show started with the band parading stage left through the crowd, into the back of the club, and down the stairs stage right, playing horns and percussion the whole time.
Behind the stage, the words "THE ROOTS" shone in giant aqua block letters against on a black screen. The audience was a mix of races and sexes, mostly in their twenties and thirties, all singing along and dancing. There was a great energy in the air.
The Roots are pioneers of hip-hop. Their funky, bluesy brand is full-sounding—tuba- and bass-heavy, with lots of keyboards and drums, plus guitar, trumpet, trombone, and tambourine. As the genre has developed, this group has resisted selling out and becoming dirty rappers, instead continuing to create rich songs using complex instrumentation, and rapping about poverty, pain, and politics.
The electric bassist did a solo, scatting while playing. He broke a string and scatted while replacing it and tuning his instrument. He tapped into his distortion pedal for a moment, brought it back and ended his solo with the bass line to the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight." Questlove launched into a drum solo from there, which led into a Hendrix-style guitar jam backed up by bass, drums, and tuba—with the tuba player dancing back and forth across the stage.
The Roots played a nice balance of tunes off both old CDs (Do You Want More?!!??!) and new (Game Theory). They also covered songs (or portions of songs) as diverse as Talib Kweli's "Get By," a rendition of the "Star-Spangled Banner" with new lyrics (which I couldn't understand because people around me were talking too loudly), Kool & The Gang's "Jungle Boogie," and, in the encore, The Police's "Roxanne" and "Tom Jones's "It's Not Unusual."
After playing for almost two and a half hours, The Roots' energy never waned. This was one of those standout shows I know I'll still be reminiscing about years from now.