The Roots Give History Lesson in Chilling Performance

The Roots

By Chelsea Whitaker

The second I stepped into the small, intimate space of the Public Theater for the final night of The Roots performance inspired by their album  …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, I knew this was no ordinary concert. There was orchestral seating for a small string quartet, a minimal drum set, a jumble of nooses hanging over the stage, and balloon animals in nets ready to fall over the audience . I immediately flashed back to the many experimental theater performances I have attended in my years living in New York. Politicized randomness thrown on top of musical performance can go very wrong – but if anyone can bring it all together, it’s The Roots crew.

Questlove and legendary sampling artist Jeremy Ellis took the stage first, cloaked in darkness. A distorted sample of Nina Simone‘s “The Theme from the Middle of the Night” was mixed live by Jeremy on a Maschine while Questlove blended the overall sound, recreating the introduction the album live. As the mournful music rose, a wiry frame of dancer Storyboard P – dressed in an Ed Hardy jacket-  entered and grabbed a giant balloon. He used it as an umbrella as the net of brightly colored balloons opened and fell onto the stage and the first row. Sounds of a thunderstorm accompanied the fall, created live by a didgeridoo player and the beat-boxing of Rahzel, who stood off the side in a Pelle Pelle jacket. As Storyboard danced somewhat frantically, the balloons began to pop. The colorful rainbow of plastic became reminiscent of gunshots. The symbolism of the bedazzled jacket, the Jim Crow era samples, and the violent soundscape combined to set a dark tone for the show.

Black Thought emerged from the shadows in a large hood, walking to the microphone and delivering a monologue that would feel at home at a Nuyorican Poetry Slam. He dove straight in – calling out slavery, the 70′s and the history of hip hop as one grim and poignant cycle of poverty and despair.

Between these monologues, Questlove, Jeremy and the string quartet delivered striking musical soundscapes, which blended into songs from their new album. Black Thought’s verses – although he didn’t spit them live – were given a deeper power in the context of the overall performance. “Understand” was a standout moment breeding the gap between entertaining hip hop. The lyrics proclaimed “People ask for God, ’til the day he comes, see God’s face they turn around and run” while organ chords plunked out the melody. Everyone was feeling the tent-revival vibe - The Root’s were our preachers, saving us from the toxic music we all thought we wanted.

One song that was truly touching was “The Coming.” The simple piano was a sharp dichotomy to the complexity of the previous songs. A pure female voice sang “They don’t remember… was it coming was it going? Were they running from the sun?” out into the dark theater. It was the redemption we were waiting for, the reclaimed innocence after the fall. Personally, I think this vocal would be amazing on an extended remix, drawing out the melody and giving the song more broad appeal.

The audience was head-nodding along to the powerful beats, and just as church-like atmosphere became overwhelming, the band’s lead guitarist Captain Kirk Douglas took the stage. He immediately began shredding to the beat, his fingers moving deftly up and down the guitar neck. This man owned the stage as a rockstar, waking us from the spell cast by Questlove. The upbeat and funky “Tomorrow” began to play, reminding us all that music was, in fact, fun. Audience members began to pick up the balloons and toss them around the theater. The show ended on this positive note, leaving us all exhilarated and emotionally exhausted.

It’s not often I go to the theater – and I wasn’t sure what to expect. But The Roots managed to teach a lesson in history, music theory, and the African-American experience seamlessly.  It’s remarkable that after playing the Tonight Show into millions of American homes, the Roots can still be so compelling and relevant. Their success has allowed them freedom – something most artists aspire to. It’s a testament to The Roots’ genius that they use this privilage to showcase the enslavement of music today, letting their audience taste freedom for a precious 2 hours in a dark theater.

Staff Picks of 2013

 

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As 2013 nears its end, we continue our tradition of yearly staff picks summing up our favorite music from the 12 months past. This year is very special as we’ve extended our list makers to include Giant Step fam outside of the staff itself; many thanks to Maiya Norton, Nai Palm (Hiatus Kaiyote), Natasha Diggs, Rich Medina, and DJ Spinna for contributing their takes!

Amongst the most popular favorites were Disclosure‘s Settle, Rhye‘s Woman, James Blake‘s Overgrown, and Hiatus Kaiyote‘s Tawk Tomahawk. Dig into the complete lists and let us know your faves as well!

Giant Step Staff Picks of 2013

New Release: ‘Red Hot + Fela’ + Felabration @ Brooklyn Bowl – Oct 17

 

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AIDS awareness organization Red Hot today releases Red Hot + Fela, a Fela Kuti themed compilation featuring remakes and covers alike with collaborations spanning the genres of electronic, hip-hop, soul, rock, and classical.

Participants include tUnE-yArDs, Questlove, Angelique Kidjo, Nneka, Sinkane, Amayo, M1, Baloji, Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes, as well as Kyp Malone and Tunde Adembimpe of TV On The Radios, amongst many others. It is indeed very serious out here in these streets.

For a taste of the music, head over to Soundcloud for a free download of “Buy Africa” by Baloji & L’Orchestre De La Katuba ft. Kuku.

This Friday, October 11, don’t miss what’s sure to be a mind-bending performance by My Morning Jacket, Merril Garbus, Brittany Howard and Antibalas Horns on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.

New Yorkers can look forward to a Felabration at Brooklyn Bowl on October 17peep the flyer after the jump! Also, don’t sleep on all the other Felabrations happening throughout October and November as well.

Enter our contest to win Red Hot + Fela.

Purchase Red Hot + Fela on iTunes | Amazon

Facebook | Twitter | Official Site

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NYC & DC: Hiatus Kaiyote Live – November 5 & 8

 

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Hot off their mystifying SummerStage performance a couple months back, we are proud to yet again present Melbourne’s internationally acclaimed Hiatus Kaiyote for two very special shows!

The two nights will take place on November 5 in NYC and November 8 in DC. In NYC, we’ll have opening sets by Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Emily King as well as the much loved DJ Rich Medina. In DC, the awesome DJ Thomas Blondet will be opening and setting the night off!

For those somehow still sleeping, the band fuses jazz, hip-hop, electronic, opera, rock and soul to concoct a truly disarming brand of future-soul like you’ve never heard. Hiatus Kaiyote released their debut album Tawk Tomahawk on July 30 via Sony Masterworks, and have received praise from highly-respected music industry staples like Questlove, Flying Lotus, Erykah Badu, Gilles Peterson, Stereogum, and KCRW. Legions of loyal fans and stans already abound – and with good reason!

NYC Details
Hiatus Kaiyote Live in NYC
with Emily King and DJ Rich Medina

Tuesday, November 5
Doors 7PM

Tickets: $25 adv / $30 door
Purchase tickets

Brooklyn Masonic Temple
317 Clermont Ave.
Brooklyn, NY

DC Details
Hiatus Kaiyote Live in DC
with DJ Thomas Blondet

Friday, November 8
Doors 7PM

Tickets: $20 (advance)
Purchase tickets

U Street Music Hall
1115 U Street NW
Washington DC

New Release: Elvis Costello & The Roots – ‘Wise Up Ghost’

 

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Elvis Costello and The Roots today dropped their collaborative Wise Up Ghost album on Blue Note Records. The majority of the recording was done in secret at Feliz Habitat Studios with production by Steven Mandel, Elvis Costello, and Questlove.

Look out for Elvis Costello and The Roots performing live on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon tonight and this Thursday! Tune in below to watch the video for the single, “Walk Us Uptown.”

Enter our contest to win Wise Up Ghost

Purchase Wise Up Ghost on iTunes | Amazon