The Roots: Live at the TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival [Review]
Winnipeg, MB – On Jun. 22, The Roots made a pit stop at Winnipeg’s Centennial Concert Hall to headline the annual TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival. Seeing The Roots perform live is a rite of passage, of sorts. A rap sheet of more than a dozen combined studio, compilation, and live albums speaks for itself—but The Roots are not fully experienced until they are seen performing live. It’s one of the most fulfilling sensory-overloads to be had.
Doors opened at 7:30 p.m. but last-minute hopeful attendees showed up earlier to find ticket scalpers. Country-pop singer Taylor Swift was in town on the same night but the Roots concert was “the show” that everyone around Winnipeg was buzzing about. Though the Roots have been a pillar in hip-hop’s advancement, many attendees were thrilled to be seeing, “That band that performs on the Jimmy Fallon show.” The all-ages venue hosted a slew of fans including senior jazz lovers, twenty-something hipsters, and youths who were getting a proper music education from their Roots-loving parents. Concertgoers packed into the concert hall and the show began almost immediately. Winnipeg’s own hip-hop quintet, The Lytics, opened the show with an enthusiastic set that showcased their Western Canadian Music Award (WCMA) nominated album, They Told Me.
The boys are well-loved by their city, thanks to their recent cross-country touring and award nomination. Fans yelled out, “I love you” and whooped in support. The hometown love pushed the boys beyond their usual enthusiasm for an all-out aerobic performance. There were jumps. There were gallops. Body Bootcamp has nothing on these guys. Unfortunately The Lytics’ performance was cut short and they exited the stage without getting through their entire set list. It was a shame. But Lytics fans can catch up with the boys this summer as they’ll be kicking around town for a bit.
As soon as the Roots walked on to the stage, concertgoers were up on their feet and cheering. Winnipeg concertgoers are pretty apathetic when it comes to live music—but the amount of hype and excitement flowing through the concert hall was infectious. The band’s set-up was complex—almost theatrical. Roots co-founder-drummer-producer Questlove was seated at his drumset on a platform located towards the back of the stage. But a Roots show obviously requires two drummers. On Questlove’s lefthand side was percussionist F. Knuckles. The front right-hand side of the stage housed keyboardist Ray Angry, who was grooving on his beautiful clunker of a keyboard set.
The rest of the stage was occupied by Roots co-founder-lead MC, Black Thought, along with guitarist Captain Kirk Douglas, bassist Mark Kelley, and sousaphone player Damon “Tuba Gooding Jr.” Bryson. That’s right—Bryson performs live with the band. And for the record, a sousaphone is a tuba-like brass instrument that is worn around the body. They are commonly seen in marching bands and much less frequently seen at hip-hop shows.
The show started off with some popular earworms and quickly delved into a concert that was equal parts experimental performance and classic Roots routine. The set included fan favourites, such as “The Fire” (sans John Legend, unfortunately), and a stellar mash-up of tracks that included “Seed 2.0.” Though the original track featured Cody Chesnutt on vocals and guitar, Captain Kirk Douglas’ soulful smooth lyricism and guitar playing made for a fresh take on a classic joint.
Though Questlove has become a foundational personality in the music industry, it was surprising that he kept things low-key during the show. He’s become a social media sensation and had just released his memoir, Mo’ Metta Blues. But he stayed in his percussion zone as Black Thought emceed the entire show. Questlove entered the stage with his signature Afro pick meticulously inserted into his big bushy mane. But several tracks into the set, the Afro pick was nowhere to be seen. It managed to unlatch itself from Questlove’s locks over the duration of Questlove’s furious drumming.
The members of the Roots each had some time to spotlight themselves: Captain Kirk Douglas gave attendees quite the demonstration by playing his guitar above his head. The Captain is a stellar entertainer with a soft spot for quality guitars— the legendary Prince has even played on (and broken) one of Kirk’s many guitars. Bassist Mark Kelley played things calm and cool. He plucked his way back-and-fourth across the stage with the cheekiest little smirk on his face.
But the band members weren’t the only ones racking up the love during the show. The hype man—sometimes referred to as a handler— plays a crucial role in ensuring a show goes well. The Roots’ hype man successfully maneuvered his way around the stage – virtually undetectable— and was seen handing beverages to the boys and replacing drumsticks for Questlove and F. Knuckles. His moment of glory came when he pushed a crazed fan off of the stage. Winnipeg—you should be slightly proud of yourselves. You successfully managed to breach the barriers of apathetic concert-watching, and enter the territories of obsessive fan fawning. It started innocently enough as a fist bump. A twenty-something fan had hustled himself in front of centre-stage and extended his arm to Black Thought for a fist bump. Initially Black Thought ignored the fan. But the fan persisted and Black Thought respectfully reached out and bumped the fan. Bad call. The fan latched on to Black Thought’s wrist and eventually tried to hop on to the stage. The hype man swiftly pushed him away and into the clutches on the security guards.
The show ended around 10 p.m. and The Roots quickly exited the stage. Questlove was scheduled to DJ a set at the local Pyramid Cabaret bar at 10 p.m. Time was running tight. Concert attendees filtered out of the venue and on to the streets of downtown Winnipeg— most were crooning the tracks from the performance and others were enthusiastically recounting the show’s theatrics to one another. Either way, it looks like the folks in Winnipeg will be tuning in to Jimmy Fallon’s broadcast more frequently now with renewed appreciation. And we can’t wait to get our hands on The Roots’ upcoming collaborative album with Elvis Costello, Wise Up Ghost. It’s scheduled to drop on Sept. 17. And it will defenitely be played on repeat for a lengthy, undetermined period of time.
Photography by Sarah Sussman for HipHopCanada