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The Roots @ 40 Acres Fest April 9, 2008

Posted by rugwu in Concert, Hip-hop, Photo.
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The Roots @ 40 Acres Fest, c/o Callie Richmond

By Natalia Ciolko, Photos by Callie Richmond

“Radioactivity + ’88 + black to the future + the 90s + maturity – corny names + instruments + fools that can make noise with their mouth + square roots + copyright infringement – square x dopeness to the power of Philly = THE ROOTS”

– From the liner notes for Things Fall Apart.

Seven men, one mission: The Roots crew aims for nothing less than live perfection. Saturday’s 40 Acres Fest, presented by the University Co-op and produced by the Music and Entertainment Committee, was capped off by a solid performance by the hip-hop innovators, starting just before sunset and lasting into the night.

The lengthy show that Austin witnessed was nothing unusual for the crew known for their two-to three-hour sets. (One show at the Knitting Factory in ’96, with guests the RZA, Erykah Badu, the Jungle Brothers and others, lasted a bombastic four hours.) The group’s tireless energy extends beyond the stage – Rising Down, their 10th and “best” album, according to Questlove’s blog, will be available in stores April 29. The story of the Roots crew is a living landmark in a genre known for more turnover than the bottom of the birdcage.

The band, in true idiosyncratic fashion, came onstage a full half-hour before schedule. Over the course of the next 45 minutes, emcee Black Thought brought the crowd from polite to possessed. Black Thought is amazingly astute at gauging the crowd and knowing how to react to them. 

Don’t let the live instrumentation fool you – the Roots are as hip-hop as it gets. Black Thought embodies the principles of hip-hop’s artistic streak while remaining in touch with hip-hop in all its forms. A touching moment was shared by all hip-hop heads in the crowd when Black Thought led an extended shout-out in honor of the great J Dilla, in all his varied names – Dill Withers, Jay Dee – for more than half a song. 

Onstage, Questlove was repping a Philly hood, Tuba Gooding Jr. had on a nice artistic T-shirt, and Black Thought looked nothing short of stadium status in his stealth leather bomber jacket and revolutionary cap. As hard as it is to do with a band like The Roots, I have to give a tie for best performance to Tuba Gooding Jr. and Capt. Kirk.

Their stage presences were phenomenal. I will never forget seeing them feed off each other, standing guitar to horn, body rocked by the power of their combined sound. The physical feat of running across the stage with a sousaphone on your back alone would warrant top regards for Tuba, but his actual performance was the incredible part. In addition to his dancing, strutting and running into the crowd, Gooding proved to be that extra spice that sets The Roots’ crew apart from all other live hip-hop acts. There appeared to be some sound problems with his horn in the first 30 minutes of the show, but after that was resolved, it came through with incredible power. In the moments when he took the horn off, Gooding’s energy got the crowd live, especially the ladies. 

It’s necessary to focus briefly on Capt. Kirk’s performance, which was outstanding in several regards. First, his guitar. The relationship between Kirk and his instrument is rare – it seemed to be an extension of his soul rather than a tool. Kirk’s attitude and hair were definitely channeling a modern-day Jimi Hendrix. Secondly, the live vocal trills and bebop that Kirk adds to the sound explains where the special something comes from on the album tracks. Kirk’s most memorable scene in the performance was during the politically charged rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” performed with just Questlove, Kamal and Kirk onstage. Questlove took the snare drum through the paces with a fierce drumroll with strains of Radiohead as Kirk took on the lyrics with a vengeance that Dylan himself would have envied. His eyes gleamed with passionate outrage as he uttered the crushing line, “Even Jesus could never forgive what you do.”

The two-hour set revisited favorites from all of the group’s albums, including the timeless “You Got Me,” which didn’t lack for the absence of Ms. Badu, but the surprise moments in the show stick out. As a testament to their shapeshifting sound, The Roots performed a mash-up that would put Girl Talk and his laptop peers to shame. Kamal on the keys made light work of every club hit from here to 1995 without breaking a sweat. The band took a lighthearted tour along the Top 40, making stops from Salt ‘n’ Pepa to old-school Snoop to Mims’ “This Is Why I’m Hot,” blending 10 or more crowd pleasers into a big festival soup. 

By the end of the show, fans and newcomers alike were satisfied and then some. If the show was any indication of the current state of The Roots crew, the new album is guaranteed to be live.

 

Rising Down is out 4/29

 

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