It's hard to say this without sounding like total haters (relax yr back, nerds, we actually like these dudes), but the best part of a Roots concert - any Roots concert - is when they play other people's songs. It's a simple fact. So we got real psyched about the group's Radio City shows this week, since the two-night stint was to be based around collabs and surprise guests.
For a brief moment at the very start of last night's show, all that awesome promise was lived up to and then some, as the band went from murdering "Apache" licks on their own "Thought At Work" to rocking screwed-down versions of those same notes on Nas's "Made You Look", while God's Son himself sauntered onstage chanting "BRAVEHEAAAAARRTS!" inbetween wicky wickies from guest DJ Jazzy Jeff. For all our enjoyment, a song we could step to! It was fucking phenomenal. And as the band finshed up a mini best-of set with Nasir, you were left wondering how amazing the rest of the show would have to be to top that.
They would not top that.
The closest the crew got to bringing the energy level back up was Big Daddy Kane coming out for "Boom" and staying onstage to do "Set It Off", "Raw", and "Warm It Up Kane". But it wasn't really a shock (what else does Kane have popping on a Thursday?), and neither were the Common / Kweli collabs (dudes were listed on the poster. Also where else were they going to be?) Instead, there were a lot of meandering bass solos, solid but unexciting Roots songs, and no more surprise guests.
As hour one dragged into hour two into hour three (what it felt like, anyhow), we had more fun looking around the audience (the "turn around to see what rap critics are rolling their eyes" game was a good one), and cracking admittedly easy jokes about Common's outfit (he rapped "You know I ain't the type to walk around with matchin shirts" on "The Light", and not only was he wearing a matching shirt AT THAT MOMENT but homie practically invented coordinating your kufi with your sweater!)
There were a few flickers of musical raddness to liven things up for a bit, like the quick detour into Eddie Kendricks's "Intimate Friends" during Com's set, Rahzel's amazing (and danceable!) bashment beatbox interlude, and a fairly smoking take on Ram Jam's "Black Betty". But none of it could take away from deeply wanting to have a great time at what was billed as a night of 1,000 surprises, and being let down on almost all counts. An off-night Roots show is still going to be halfway decent, but we could check that kind of set at the Anycollege, USA rec center most days of the year. This is New York Fucking City! Don't join the Yankees and not make a legit swing for the pennant, y'know?!
Ah well. There's always tonight's show (J*Davey!) and it's accompanying rumors (Ghostface might actually come through this time! And El Presidente Hovito!) to get your hopes back up. Redeem yourselves, Illadelphians...