The Legendary Roots Live at the Fillmore in Silver Spring, MD – December 30, 2011

A band capable of wearing many hats, The Roots showcased an extensive range of musical styles at the Fillmore, performing each with a seasoned professionalism. Make My served as a low-key track to get the crowd in the groove of things following the ominous commencement of the concert with Dun and Sleep from 2011’s concept album, Undun. Then the band performed an almost entirely reduxed version of Quills, which was already one of my favorites. The new rendition was full of switching time signatures, stop-starts, and Black Thought showing his ability to deliver lines at any number of speeds, changing at a moment’s notice. For me, this was the best song of the night in showcasing The Roots’ creative talents as well as their understanding as a group. Next, the band mates memorably and playfully stalked around the stage to the creeping and ebbing beat of Step into the Realm. Black Thought then donned another hat to vent the rebellious rally cry that makes up the intro and chorus of Stomp on either side of his and guest rapper Greg Porn’s verses. A few tracks later, The Other Side marked a second surging wave of music, coming off the back end of three slow rollers – Proceed, Mellow My Man, and Break You Off. But when this jam hit, it hit hard as a mothafucka, perfectly setting up the equally energizing Get Busy.

One Jungle Boogie, solo-ridden medley later, someone who was working at the venue told my brother in the smoking section that there was a 90% chance that a certain Erykah Badu would make a guest appearance, so you could imagine my excitement when I heard the first snap of the snare and pluck of the guitar from You Got Me. The guitarist, Captain Kirk Douglas, sang Badu’s chorus, and I assumed that this was just a ploy to make her entrance on the second chorus that much more exciting…but then Douglas sang it again. Maybe she’ll come out at the end of the song and they’ll do a totally different song or rendition, I thought. But then I lost hope when Douglas insisted on forcing Sweet Child O’ Mine into the set list. Jeeez he has bad taste in rock music, the specialty niche that he brings to the outfit. Having to sit through that ridiculous ballad wasn’t my only gripe with the performance. Although I rather enjoy Lighthouse’s verses and even Dice Raw’s chorus, hearing it live with the bass much more prevalent than the dissonant guitar made me take heed of the simply guileless bass line. But rest assured, the interim term bassist showed his ability elsewhere in other tracks as well as when the band took turns soloing as they are so prone to do. Aaron Livingston’s smooth guest vocals on a number of songs from the past two albums like Dear God 2.0 and Sleep were cooed to perfection, though I think he went a little overboard with the finale of The Other Side, wailing – impressively mind you – in the vein of Cedric Bixler-Zavala of the Mars Volta. Don’t get me wrong, it is a talent to be able to sing falsetto like that, but it doesn’t much fit the scene – a  lot like when a talented hip-hop group plays a Guns n’ Roses song.

Next came the quite extensive encore, which was expected, to be fair, since there was no opening act. Returning to the stage and the cheering crowd, Black Thought showed that he’s still got the talent to spit like a man possessed with Thought at Work, before keepin’ it lyrical with How I Got Over and Here I Come. The winding down of the show was signaled by Seed 2.0 as many in the crowd were finally satisfied having heard probably the group’s most recognizable song, although it would not be the last number. Instead, The Roots honored Gil Scott-Heron’s passing this year with a cover of his The Bottle, followed by a Curtis Mayfield cover of Move on Up to end on a more jubilant note.

Don’t let any of my earlier criticisms fool you, I was merely splitting hairs. The Roots put on a finely balanced show – a good mix of the old and new; older songs they tinkered with, brought them up to speed when needed, while the newer songs were played (for the most part) as they are on the record. Classics of theirs were often reinvented to a jam-band style full of instrumental solos and awesome battling percussionists (thanks to ?uestlove and F. Knuckles) while the new tracks provided a more precise, powerful simplicity. Those tracks simply haven’t been around long enough to have any drastic changes made to them. All in all, if you’re a hip-hop fan and you’ve never seen the Legendary Roots crew perform live, it will change the way you look at hip-hop forever. If you’re not a fan of hip-hop, don’t be shaky and squeamish – The Roots transcend the restricting confines of a genre! Good music is good music people, and these guys have been making good music for decades.

p.s. if anyone is interested in the complete set list of 27 songs, please let me know.

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