Show Review: The Roots at Webster University, Friday, April 18

After being caught off-guard by Friday morning’s earthquake, St. Louis hip-hop fans experienced “The Next Movement” as the Legendary Roots Crew (a.k.a. the Roots) played at Webster University later that night. Originally billed as an outdoor concert, the show was moved into the Grant Gymnasium due to the questionable weather. The temperature outside was cool, but it remained humid inside -- especially with all of the bodies packed tightly into the gym. Overall the location worked well, though; the lighting was vibrant, as was the sound.

Locals the Illphonics opened up the show with a well-received blend of rap, rock, funk and jazz. The high-energy band played well and had good chemistry. Lead vocalist and Webster student Larry “Fallout” Morris displayed good stage presence and mic control, even though his vocals were unfortunately a little muffled coming out of the speakers.

After a twenty-minute intermission, the floor quickly filled with college students (many who smuggled in their own “beverages”) in anticipation of the headliners. The set began with a saxophone solo; each band member then took their place onstage one at a time, adding a new layer to the music with each entrance. The crowd erupted as ?uestlove took his seat behind the drums, and once again as Black Thought stood center stage. The front man personified cool, sporting the classic jeans/white tee combo with aviators and a fitted Yankees cap.

The Roots lead off with “Rising Up” (off its new album, Rising Down) followed by various classics from its extensive catalog. Black Thought didn’t stop to breathe until several songs in, during a sousaphone solo by Damon “Tuba Gooding Jr.” Bryson. Tuba provided much of the low-end throughout, since bassist Leonard “Hub” Hubbard left the band last August. It’s also worth mentioning how hard Tuba was working, running across the stage (and down to the floor at one point) carrying the massive instrument. The sax player was pulling double-duty, providing the background vocals for songs like “You Got Me,” which Black Thought performed with legato-style vocals to the crowd’s approval.

Following a brief guitar solo, the band went into a playful medley covering rap standards from Biz Markie to Death Row to Lil’ Jon. At this point, the band left the stage except for ?uestlove and Knuckles. The pair performed an extended drum solo with a free-form vibe. The stage lights went out, revealing LED lights on ?uest’s drumsticks, producing a kind of “rave” effect as the drummer rallied the crowd. When the lights came back on, the entire band had returned to the stage, picking right back up where they left off. They immediately launched into “Get Busy,” a percussive, back-to-the-basics-style single off of Down. While a couple of my personal favorites were notably absent (“What They Do,” “Livin’ in a New World”), there was no shortage of fan favorites (“Star,” “Don’t Feel Right,” “Here I Come”).

To repeated chants of “The Roots Crew! The Roots Crew!” the group played an encore consisting of three aggressively fast-paced verses over a jazzy instrumental. ?uestlove threw autographed drumsticks into the lingering crowd after the finale, as others filed out of the building.

If you missed the Roots’ world-class hip-hop on Friday, you can catch them again at the Fox Theater with Erykah Badu on May 29.

-- Calvin Cox

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