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all words: Colin Wilhelm
all photos: Lauren Bulbin

From the beginning, The Roots’ show at Silver Spring’s Fillmore Theater felt like a major event. The Fillmore’s aesthetic aided this, as the capacious stage and space gave the evening a promise of larger than life that The Roots’ performance fulfilled. Members of the band walked out onstage to the sounds of Undun’s intro track (“Dun”), and proceeded to perform several other songs from the band’s recent well-received concept album; it seemed at first that the Philly natives would stick to playing that album straight through, though they may have flipped the sequence of a song or two. Guest stars Porn, Truck North, and especially Bilal (and his unique high tenor voice) added to the power of several songs and the overall lofty atmosphere of the evening.

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But above all, The Roots were fun, even when performing songs about the life and demise of an inconsequential street hustler sucked into crime.  Though they prepared the crowd for a night of Undun with a few other songs mixed in, I was pleasantly surprised that the ‘legendary crew’ decided to break out a number of songs from throughout their repertoire, mostly scattered ones from their back catalog, including “Dear God 2.0” from How I Got Over, “Step Into the Realm” off of Things Fall Apart, “Break You Off” and a verse of “Seed 2.0” [perhaps their best known song] from Phrenology, amongst others. They even broke into the best cover of Guns n’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine” this author has ever heard, one that somehow breathed life and freshness into a song that’s been overplayed on the radio the last two decades.

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A gigantic Rube Goldberg machine of sound, the disparate parts of their large band all worked beautifully together. Most know about grown wunderkind drummer by day, BYT party DJ by night, tweeter extraordinaire at all times ?uestlove and skillful MC Black Thought, but casual followers of The Roots probably don’t know as much about guitarist “Captain” Kirk Douglas, his minimalist powerful style and the occasional, incredible duets he supplies for his guitar with his own voice. The Roots are “The” hip-hop band today but when they want to be they’re also a damn fine rock band. He, Tuba Gooding Jr. [instrument self-explanatory] and the rest of the band entertained as much as Black Thought’s smooth delivery and ?uestlove’s mesmerizingly easeful drumming.

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It’s hard to imagine many bands playing tighter than they do, in a variety of ways. Between that almost extrasensory cohesiveness, each individual’s comfort in soloing, and their group willingness to take the backseat to other artists at times (Jay-Z, a rotating cast of seemingly every other rapper, Jimmy Fallon), The Roots draw several parallels as hip-hop’s equivalent of The Band.  Though they’re well renowned in their own genre they excel playing a variety of styles, with a variety of artists. It explains much of their mass appeal, after all, how many hip-hop artists can play concerts with Common and Wilco?

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However, as well as they performed, as dance-worthy many of their songs were, few in the crowd managed to do much more than nod or sway gently to the beat. Many in the balcony didn’t even bother standing up until near completion of the set. Perhaps higher ticket prices kept a younger more energetic audience out, perhaps everyone wanted to save their energy for New Year’s; perhaps there was a localized carbon monoxide phenomenon, perhaps they were Bachmann supporters, but for whatever reason lethargy struck the vast majority of the crowd. It was the only disappointment of the night, and in no way indicative of the quality of the band on stage.

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