LIVE: The Roots at The Howard Theater

Photos courtesy of LaVan E. Anderson

The Roots’ christening of D.C.’s newly-re-opened Howard Theater was nothing short of epic. After about a good half an hour into the show, I quickly realized that I wasn’t just at a Roots show; I was at a ROCK show! Once I let that idea sink in, I allowed myself to be taken on a rollercoaster of sound that spanned multiple genres, all while being tightly cradled under the banner of ‘hip-hop.’ Throughout the evening, they showed off a dexterity that has always been present, but they’re an ever-evolving band, and for the amount of time that they’ve been together as a band, it is surprising, and refreshing, that nothing they do is ever stale.

The rollercoaster ride began with their Swing Out Sister-sampling “Quills.” From there, it veered into go-go territory as ?uestlove started singing/playing the go-go classic “The Word (talkin’ bout W-O-R-and that DEE-EEE!!!), which segued into “I Shall Proceed,” which then went into a go-go interlude, and then on to “My Mellow My Man.” Tuba Gooding, Jr. did his thing with a most excellent solo, and at one point he and ?uest started going toe-to-toe which was cool.

I think it’s fair to say that The Roots have only had about a handful of commercial/radio hits, which of course they performed, but if you’ve been to multiple Roots shows, you know that they never do the same thing twice. And so it went with “Break You Off” and “You Got Me.”

“Break You Off” was a moment for the audience and the band to catch their collective breaths. As we swayed and slow-winded to the elastic bassline, Tuba Gooding, Jr. decided that he wanted to be among the crowd, so he jumped off the stage with his (super-massive) sousaphone and zigged-zagged his way through the audience. It’s when he tried to make his way back to the stage that….things fell apart (sorry, I had to do it). As he attempted to jump back onto the stage, he fell and busted his ass AND his sousaphone! But not to worry…he was welcomed back to the stage with heartfelt applause.

As The Roots were starting to play their Grammy-winning hit “You Got Me,” ?uest paused the proceedings to recognize the “white elephant” in the room, and Tuba was promptly asked to leave, as ?uest continued to clown him. The guitar player, Captain Kurt Douglas, did double duty by singing Erykah Badu’s part, which ended up morphing into a 15-minute scatting session, which then morphed into “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses, which was a bit of a wink/nod to the fact that The Roots actually played at this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony (honoring the Beastie Boys) in which Axl Rose will be forever known as the petty jackass who REJECTED the honor!!! Anyhoo…so then that morphed into “Bad to the Bone.”

Remember when I said that I was at a rock show? Yeah, The Roots continuously showed and proved that you don’t have to be a rock band to be rock gods. Case in point: there were quite a few girls standing right at the front of the stage, screaming at the top of their lungs how much they loved Black Thought and ?uestlove. One of those girls had to be physically removed from the theater because she was crying hysterically and wouldn’t stop feeling up Black Thought’s legs.

The Roots proceeded to get funky on us by playing Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” which segued into what, for me, was the highlight of the evening: ?uest and percussionist F. Knuckles performing a mind-blowing, soul-stirring, Afro-Cuban-esque drum/congo duet.

They finally closed their set with “The Next Movement” and encored with “The Seed” and Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up.”

What a fun show! I pretty much danced the whole time, thanks to The Roots’ constant upbeat energy and Black Thought’s ridiculously limber flow. After all these years, he’s still got it. I would even venture to say that his skills have sharpened over the years, making him one of the best that ever did it. I was especially excited that they honored D.C. by infusing a little bit of a go-go vibe throughout the show, and it was nice to see James Poyser on keys. The combination of the legendary Roots crew performing at the newly re-minted and equally legendary Howard Theater made for a legendary evening and one of the best Roots performances of their career.