Those who have been listening to Philadelphia hip hop band The Roots these 25 years appear be prospering right along with the pioneering group. A well-heeled crowd of thirty- to forty-somethings (mixed with the occasional group of bespeckled young hipsters) filled the Knight Concert Hall to see them perform Saturday night as part of their 25th anniversary tour. Over the past quarter century, the hip-hop band has gone from a pair of music-obsessed performing arts school friends (rapper Black Thought and drummer Questlove) to a 240-shows-a-year touring band with twelve studio albums under its belt, to the house band for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”
The Roots took the stage at 8:50 p.m., after opening act funk balladeer Steven A. Clark, kicking off with “Web” from their sixth album The Tipping Point. Black Thought, whose microphone was just slightly too low to be completely comprehended, led his rascally band mates, who energetically ran circles around the stage like kids at a playground (even Damon Bryson, who toted his huge tuba as if were weightless), into some of their greatest hits mashed up with a few disco, funk and rock standards.
“Give it up for the Jackson Three!,” he teased as Damon, bassist Mark Kelley and guitarist Kirk Douglas coordinated an impromptu hustle line behind him.
But performing any job for twenty-five years takes a toll on even the most resilient. Questlove rubbed his eyes more than once from his seat behind the drums, Black Thought even shouted for a cup of coffee at one point. The grind of doing a talk show five days a week, then hopping on a plane to perform for audiences must be brutal. But the group’s residency with Jimmy Fallon was a major improvement over their hectic touring schedule, which by 2007 was taking a toll on their families. As Questlove explained to Pitchfork last summer, “The goodbyes at the airport and the tour bus started becoming unbearable to watch.”
The most infectious energy came from Kirk Douglas, who after singing Erykah Badu’s chorus on “You Got Me” morphed into a guitar riff/vocal scat that evolved into a rock medley of GNR’s “Sweet Child of Mine,” “Bad to the Bone” and Heart’s “Barracuda.” Black Thought, who knew the drill, took a seat while his band mate was at work. Later, the rest of the band cleared the stage during a lengthy percussion solo/battle between Questlove and his protégé, Frank Knuckle. Drumsticks flew through the air and an intrepid fan in the front row stealthily climbed on stage to snag one while the band performed “The Next Movement.”
The band performed their signature song “Here I Come,” which Late Night with Jimmy Fallon fans hear before and after most commercial breaks. Long time fans were treated to classics like “Proceed” and “Mellow, My Man” from Do You Want More?!!!?!, the group’s first album on label DGC and the ubiquitous ‘90s sound track for collegiate hip-hop fans and lovers of the emerging neo-soul movement.
Though the Miami crowd may be a bit more reserved than other stops on their tour, the packed theater beamed with enthusiasm and obediantly threw hands up in the air and called back when instructed.
Though the audience has matured along with the band, there were a few who reverted back to dorm room habits, like the person who was blazing up in the middle of the Arsht Center. It must have been the hipsters.