Sunday, November 16, 2008

All dope things...

Travel back with me for a bit.

February 1999. State Theater; Detroit, Michigan. Every bit a 17-year-old, there wasn't much to my life besides school, a part-time job at Media Play and the interminable-yet-unsuccessful panty chase. Standing outside in the cold for a concert hours before doors opened so as to secure a spot front row, center-stage for a Roots concert was nothing. During that wait, I met a dope sister who, little did I know, would still be in my life nearly a decade later (One Love, Liz...I know you're reading, ma!).

As for the show itself, I wasn't ready. Little did I know that almost 10 years and many, many concerts later, it would remain the best live show I've ever attended.

That tour was to promote the release of Things Fall Apart, which was phenomenal in that zeitgeist but stands the test of time as the group's magnum opus and a true classic in hip-hop's canon.

The band - then Black Thought, ?uestlove, Kamal, Hub and Scratch - walked out single-file shaking tambourines before taking their positions on stage. And for the following two-and-a-half hours, they gave us more. Late in the show, Thought introduced to the stage a slovenly-dressed, shy young newcomer by the name of Jill Scott as the original songstress behind the "You Got Me" hook. Folks came up to me months later reminding me how she blew everyone away.

The Roots remain my favorite band of all time. Not only is their studio recording catalog stellar, but they singlehandedly set the gold standard of what I have come to expect from a hip-hop show. Such is why the news of their retirement from touring breaks my heart.

The group is transcendent not only in that it's the only hip-hop group I can think of that doesn't rely on machine-driven production or a DJ, but because you could get a different version of their show even if you went on every stop of a single tour. That alone trumps the prosaic nature of most other hip-hop artists who do the same shit with the same DJ every single show.

They don't just get on the stage and play: they have fun. From no other band will you see a nigga with a tuba do the Cupid Shuffle onstage with the bass guitar player. ?uest battling Knuckles in percussion has to be experienced. Scratch emanating noises from his mouth that no human should be able to is insane and eerie. And every time Thought and ?uest do "The Web", I get amped.

While the band's live recordings (which apparently will continue as long as they're under contract) did take a dip in quality for a spell (see: Phrenology and The Tipping Point), many of those songs are interpolated much better in concert.

I've seen them numerous times since that February: the legendary Okayplayer Tour; the stop at Congress Theater on the single hottest day of summer 2006 - after which Vernal and I were exhausted, drenched in sweat and completely satisfied; the stop at The Kaleidoscope last year during which Skillz and Dice Raw (successfully) filled in for an ailing Thought and ?uest and Thought ripping an afterparty at the Victor Hotel earlier this year during the first time I shared a live hip-hop experience with She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.

I do respect the difficulty that these cats have to endure living with each other on the road for all these years, and I'm not entirely surprised at this decision. Having a regular gig on a television show with Jimmy Fallon - the biggest tool on television since Carson Daly - will definitely stack the math. I just wonder where Thought will fit in, if at all, with a format that probably doesn't allow for an emcee in the mix.

I saw them here in Chicago last Thursday; the evening ?uest made the announcement posted after the jump. I suppose I'm glad I dragged my ass out the house for it; especially they and Cee-Lo straight bodied shit and showed us all what a free concert should be like.

If that really, truly was my swan song with the band, then it's been a fantastic 10 years. We'll always have Detroit.

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