Live Review: The Roots Channel Their Musical Heroes at the Fox

The Roots
Lion Babe
Dec. 27, 2014
The Fox Theater 

Hip-hop heads who stayed local over the holidays received a special treat Saturday night with a visit from Philly-based super group The Roots, who sold out the Fox Theater in Oakland for a show full of festive funk and yuletide cheer. Fans young and old mingled in jubilant anticipation for the arrival of the legendary band, as the scent of potent greenery wafted alongside the appetizing aroma of late-night bites courtesy of the nearby Rudys Can't Fail Cafe.

[jump] Beginning with the first strike of Questlove's mighty drumstick, the band started the night with newer, more somber selections from the recent album Undun, then quickly went on to more familiar ground like “I Shall Proceed” and “What They Do.” MC Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter dropped his signature precise, methodical flows with flawless execution. Joined by the soulful vocal stylings of Bilal, songs like 1999's Grammy Award-winning “You Got Me” found new life.
Since their inception, The Roots have always defied genre, blending jazz, funk, classic rock, punk, and gospel into their own refreshing brand of hip-hop and neo-soul. Nowhere is this made more clear than in the live setting, where you can feel the band re-imagining their own music, pitting new compositions against past influences. During the set it was almost as if Black Thought would let himself dissolve, allowing for the arrival of heroes like James Brown or Big Daddy Kane to speak through him. Of course, the band itself was adept at this style of supernatural transitioning, performing the gritty, raw, and emotional Roots classics we've come to expect, then suddenly cascading into a surprise G'n'R guitar solo or a Kool & The Gang horn arrangement. This kept things extra fresh throughout the evening. 
Every member of the Philly ensemble exhibited absurd amounts of skill and ingenuity — plus an ease together on stage that can only come from playing for as long and as hard together as these men have. The show was a celebration of music and artistic perseverance, a moment to revel at an underground band that has somehow beat the odds: They've achieved mainstream success and commercial viability without compromising their ideals or creative convictions.


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