The Roots, Commodore Ballroom Vancouver- 2/1
The Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver sits one story above busy, central Granville Street, where gorgeous, club-hopping women carefully step around wild-eyed heroin addicts who politely ask for their change. Inside the ornate, mid-sized club, the sold-out crowd smoked trees (no cigarettes allowed) and clamored for good positions on the dance floor. Just after eleven the show opened big, with a New Orleans-style procession marching from the back of the hall, lead by the horn section: tuba, saxophone, trumpet, and trombone. Large, stark letters lit up one by one behind the stage, spelling out “The Roots.”
Once onstage, Black Thought, drummer ?uestlove, Knuckles on percussion, Hub on bass, Captain Kirk on guitar, and Kamal Gray on keyboards put down their shakers and tambourines and began a show only they, the legendary Roots sound system, were qualified to play, a show that took the listener on a voyage through classic hip-hop, acknowledged the genre’s foundations of funk, and modernized it with songs from 2006’s Game Theory.
The first of many surprises came with a spot-on cover of Eric B. and Rakim’s old-school classic “Ain’t No Joke,” complete with the chopped horn lines bitten from “Pass the Peas.” Then an extended bass jam, and the band channeled Ol’ Dirty with an authentic “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.” Black Thought then quoted “Method Man” and the band delivered a huge medley of classic rap tracks, which included Dr. Dre’s first single with Snoop Dogg, “Deep Cover,” and Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push it.”
It’s hard to imagine a modern rock band doing a medley of Black Sabbath and Alice and Chains, but we got the hip-hop equivalent. Far from being trite or cheesy, it felt totally right. Everyone wants to hear those songs, and they simply aren’t covered—at least, not well. In the rap and hip-hop game, there isn’t a band as skilled as The Roots, and they take advantage of their unique position in a very crowd-pleasing way.
Soon after, still early in the 2+ hour show, the horn section took over, playing JB grooves (“Gimme Some More”), with ?uestlove as the driving force, knocking out hard, funky beats.
More covers were scattered through the evening. Black Thought mentioned the “fucked-up war” and introduced “Masters of War,” saying that they had played it at a Bob Dylan tribute show. The band stripped down to a three piece, with drums, tuna and guitar, as Captain Kirk began the song by singing Dylan’s words to the melody of the “Star Spangled Banner.” It was a meaningful statement that wasn’t lost on the Canadian crowd, most members of which having no love for Bush or war.
The song eventually changed into something that more resembled the original, though with hip-hop beats and extended guitar jams.
Covers aside (also “Jungle Boogie” and Zeppelin teases), the best moments of the night came with dark-yet-danceable versions of songs from Game Theory, their best album yet. Highlights included “In the Music” and “Don’t Feel Right.” They delivered their hits at key moments as well, with “You Got Me” highlighting the acoustic part of the show and “The Seed” in the encore.
The encore began with ?uestlove singing “Roxanne,” an interesting choice since the Police are here in Vancouver, rehearsing for their upcoming reunion tour. The Roots might not have the commercial pull of Puffy, but it’s real hip-hop: challenging, musical rap music. No ?uestion about that.