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The Roots keep audience in rapture in Chicago

Observer Scene | Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Roots are not your typical, run-of -the-mill hip-hop group. In fact, some may say the Roots are not even a hip-hop group at all.

Blurring the lines between rock, funk, rap, jazz and soul, The Roots certainly do have the central elements of a hip-hop group, but are completely void of a DJ and pre-programmed beats. Every second of their music in the studio is performed by a live band made up of some of the most brilliant musicians today. The Roots brought that brilliantly unique band through Chicago’s House of Blues Monday night, fresh off a short tour opening up select dates for Wilco.

Entering the House of Blues on Monday night, concertgoers were greeted with the subtle beats of fellow hip-hop artists A Tribe Called Quest and Mos Def resonating on the venue’s sound system. Not relying on any opening act to warm up the audience, The Roots appeared on a completely dark stage to the cheers of an already energetic and bouncing audience to tear through a relentless two hour set.

Drummer ?uestlove ripped into the drum beat of the opener, “I Don’t Care,” from 2004’s “The Tipping Point,” sending waves of sound rippling through the audience’s chests. The lights came up with MC Black Thought’s tight rhymes revealing the full six-piece band including ?uestlove, Black Thought, bassist Hub, another percussionist, bass, electric guitar and keyboards. “I Don’t Care” set the tone for the intense, energetic set that was to follow, with absolutely no break in between songs for two hours. The Roots flowed seamlessly from one song to the next, not leaving any room for the audience, or themselves, to rest.

The musicianship of The Roots cannot be emphasized enough. While other traditional hip-hop groups may rely on sampled loops and drum machines, the live band that relentlessly tore through several songs from “The Tipping Point,” “Things Fall Apart” and the classic “Phrenology” proved that they are not only worthy to be compared to hip-hop icons like A Tribe Called Quest, but they are also brilliant musicians that can play any type of music. The Roots pulled no punches in that respect, segueing from their own “Love of My Life” into Ray Charles’ classic “What’d I Say.”

To further accentuate these abilities, and perhaps to give the other members some rest from the continuous set, each band member was given several minutes to showcase their individual talents.

Bassist Hub was first up, flowing into a free form rock- and jazz-based jam from “What’d I Say” for several minutes. Drummer ?uestlove and his fellow percussionist were given a chance later in the show to showcase their ridiculously tight rhythms and jams, inviting the guitar player out to jam at the end in an intense start-stop funk jam. After several more Roots classics including “The Seed 2.0,” “Don’t Say Nuthin’,” “Stay Cool” and “Panic!” the electric guitarist was give a chance to shine with a long, powerful solo toying with the basic riff of the Beatles’ “She’s So Heavy.” Jumping off stage and playing while walking around the sweating, screaming crowd amped the audience up for the incredible finale of the show.

Leaving keyboard player Kamal to showcase his abilities last, The Roots segued seamlessly from the electric echoes of the Beatles into a monster jam of countless pop songs led by the incomparable Kamal. Riffing on their own funked-out versions of Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman,” Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love,” Wu-Tang Clan’s “Protect Ya Neck,” Ram Jam’s “Black Betty,” Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” and the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” the band stretched its music chops to the limits, closing the insanely dynamic two-hour set with no encore. ?uestlove instead stayed on stage signing drumsticks and throwing them into the audience while a recording of The Roots “Din Da Da” thumped from the PA system, keeping the audience entranced until the lights finally came on.

Truly one of the most unique, original and energetic live acts touring right now, The Roots did not miss a single step Monday night, playing a seamless set featuring their own hip-hop masterpieces as well as classic funk, rock, rap and soul songs that kept the audience in rapture.