I’ve wanted to see The Roots live for years but I was slightly nervous before this started on Saturday night. After hearing their joint album, Wake Up!, I was scared that it would be a glorified John Legend show – Roots frontman Black Thought only appears on two of the album’s twelve tracks. I’m a huge fan of Legend’s soulful voice but the main reason I bought my ticket was to finally see the Legendary Roots Crew.
There was no need to worry. It was an amazing night, the type of night you wish you could relive again and again. Katy B was the supporting act, the artist’s voice doesn’t tend to be the focal point of dubstep so to hear her singing so impressively was very unexpected. The highlight of her short set was “Katy on a Mission“, her biggest song yet. I’d never heard dubstep performed with live instruments before and it was great.
John Legend and The Roots emerged soon after and went straight into the opening track of their album, “Hard Times” (video below). Hearing these songs live added another dimension to them – they felt alive and vibrant in a way that an mp3 file can never match. Legend’s silky voice is even more impressive in person. Whether he’s hitting the high notes or softly serenading, his control and range is phenomenal. He works the crowd and plays the piano while he sings, the audience’s attention never wavering.
They rattled through a few songs from their joint album with Black Thought present and accounted for, confirming why he’s the most underrated rapper around. Black Thought left the stage after three songs and they went into some of the hits from John Legend’s catalogue. You’ve never truly heard “Used to Love You” until you’ve heard it with The Roots providing the instrumental.
Then it was time to showcase The Roots. Some audience members didn’t realise they would be performing, believing they were turning up to a John Legend show. Those people would have left as serious Roots fans. Their live show is so highly regarded – Rolling Stone named them one of the twenty greatest live acts of all time – for good reason, they collide hip hop with elements of jazz, soul, funk and rock and deliver it with so much energy.
Questlove is a machine on the drums. It’s not even a big deal to him, it’s all effortless. At one point he was talking to Black Thought at the side of the stage and didn’t miss a beat. When you listen to a Roots album Questo’s drums dominate your ears but the live show emphasises the importance of their guitar player, Captain Kirk Douglas. He’s a wizard with a guitar – he even played it behind his back during one mindblowing solo.
Black Thought returned to the stage as they played some of their classics including my favourite Roots song, “You Got Me” (video below), with London’s own Estelle filling in for Erykah Badu before she delivered a rendition of “American Boy”.
The final part of the show went back to joint songs from Wake Up!. A rousing cover of Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” – that didn’t make the final album cut – left the crowd spellbound and the show closer, “I Can’t Write Left Handed” was a reminder that music can have a political message and still go down well with the masses.
Of course, that wasn’t the end of the show. After rapturous applause everyone returned to the stage and treated us to a few more songs including a beautiful performance of “Ordinary People” and a song from The Roots latest effort How I Got Over, “The Fire”.
When you look forward to something for so long it tends to lead to disappointment. This gig managed to meet my expectations. John Legend is a brilliant performer and The Roots really are as good as people say. If you get a chance to see either of them then grab it, I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Here’s a stream of the Arcade Fire cover, thanks to PMA.
Thanks to maguireuniverse for the image and videos in this post.