They will be sorely missed. Having oddly chosen to abandon tour life after nearly two decades of touring street corners, radio studios and arenas to become house band at NBC’s Late Show, The Roots are enjoying what should be a five month ticker-tape parade good bye to their worldwide audience.
Group backbone Questlove has expressed distress with the discrepancy between the world state of affairs and American mainstream rap (“it’s all a big party”), thereby explaining the plummeting of joyous tones on recent albums, which have been treated by the group as their last chance to reach out to a mass body of listeners with their own reflections. Astoundingly, The Roots fail in the daunting task of taking the champagne-smothered party from commercial hip-hop videos across the ocean to Rock City.
Despite performing a selection of songs that continue to be equally thought-provoking as crowd-pleasing, the audience does not really get busy to “Get Busy”, the band’s body jolting and gloomy take on a modern day hit single. Fortunately, the always impressive drum solo raises the temperature considerably in the room. The climax is expectedly reached with “The Seed” as encore, followed by cheerful rendition of Curtis Mayfield led by lead-vocalist Black Thought, whose breath control and authority justify his claims of being “top 5 dead or alive”.
Yet leaving the guaranteed cause of exhilaration for last at a show that had been lacking in crowd response speaks volumes about The Roots’ refusal to be remembered as a one-hit-wonder. Their music, a sobering reflection of not only their, but our reality, is too important for that to happen. It is also too good not to be enjoyed thoroughly by any audience.
Perhaps the news of their retirement from touring is not so odd. For a stubbornly independent band, though, one cannot help but wonder how their integrity as social commentators and musicians is not compromised when performing for NBC at a set time every day (which isn’t even late!). For the sake of documentation, The Roots will continue to release material, albeit without real time displays of their collectively stunning talent. Fortunately for me, I got to jump around nearly as much as I wanted to one last time.