The Roots. At the Jazz Cafe. Last night. Seamless. Seminal. Wow.
That’s the condensed version. Let the gibbering version begin by saying I’m a little worried: I might just have seen the best gig of my year already, although I’m hoping Sigur Ros and Massive Attack will prove me wrong. And there’s always the hope of a Pavement reunion tour (ha bloody ha)…
We begin with the venue. If you were more than 20 metres from the stage you’d have been really unlucky. I’m so glad I jumped at the chance to see them at the Jazz Cafe instead of in the vastness of Brixton Academy on March 29.
I suppose the quickest way to describe the performance is that The Roots live are every bit as amazing as you’ve heard they are. Half the time they’re a band that rocks harder than any of the NME’s latest “The ______s” darlings. The rest of the time they’re pretending not to be a band any more but a collection of classic records in the dextrous hands of a turntablist, except that they’re live musicians rather than recorded sounds, and Rahzel’s not using his hands. He’s “scratching” MC Black Thought’s rapping. He’s sampling. He’s cross-fading. I run out of DJing knowledge to describe most of what he’s doing, but the important thing I need to stress here to the uninitiated is that he’s using his mouth. The only other time I’ve seen live beatboxing was Killa Kela doing a solo gig at Cargo, which didn’t prepare me at all for the way The Roots fit it all together. Other highlights included their alternate ragga, ska and heavy metal versions of You Got Me, their ‘tribute’ to Jam Master Jay where they pretended to be Run DMC posing for a photo session, and the call-and-response bonus track from Phrenology for the encore.
Okay. I now redescend to essay-writing hell, but God bless The Roots for that brief foray into hip-hop heaven.