Black Thought & ?uestlove sink Roots into packed Lasell crowd

A lot of students refuse to go to All Campus Entertainment (ACE)-sponsored concerts because they think it will ruin their impression of the band. Lasell’s acoustics are muddy and lukewarm Williams audiences are difficult to fully arouse. If the bands’ pleas for student enthusiasm fall on deaf ears, some artists grow testy and begin to castigate the audience angrily. While this irritation is usually effective in provoking the audience, the response tends to be a negative one, spoiling the concert.

The possibility that last Thursday’s show would follow this pattern certainly existed: some freshmen were overheard at the coffee shop trying to figure out whether the Roots were a rap group or a reggae band, eventually arriving at the classification of “folk hip-hop.” This was not the best omen for success and neither was encountering a confused and possibly high ?uestlove roaming down Spring St. in search of his buddies and some tasty Thai dinner prior to the show. But to everyone’s collective delight, the Roots, a hip-hop band hailing from the Illadelph (Philadelphia, Penn. to the uninitiated), left the crowd no choice but to get down. For once, students didn’t have to be ordered to dance, sing or throw their hands up because they were already doing it, with a fervor that hadn’t been seen on this campus since Morty informed us that Williams was scrapping that horrible field behind Greylock and building a nice new parking garage for the summer theatre festival in its place.

From the opening note, we knew that this show would be better than any other Williams show to date.

The Roots brought seven main members to the stage: their frontman and MC, Black Thought, guitarists Martin Luther and Kirk Douglas, Hub the bassist, keyboard player Kamal, beatboxer DJ Scratch, Ben the percussionist and the aforementioned ?uestlove on drums, his very large self improbably stuffed into a very small Williams sweatshirt.

They were accompanied by a couple of other musicians and MCs throughout the show, but the focus was on these seven. The band opened with a medley of popular covers, including the inescapable “In da Club” by 50 Cent, and moved on to play a mix of songs from their new LP, Phrenology, and older albums. Some of most well received were “Break You Off,” a chilled-out ode to anticipated hanky-panky under the covers that ignited the crowd and “You Got Me,” a hit from their previous album, Things Fall Apart.

Clenching a Jamaican chew stick in between his teeth, Hub worked the crowd over in the midst of this beginning set with a tight solo that gave the crowd a chance to catch its breath. Martin Luther’s solo guitar and vocal performance similarly impressed the audience, especially some women who were smitten by his heartfelt lyrics.

Eliza Myrie ’03 reminded these authors that “You can’t sing to me the way that boy can!” as the full Roots band exploded back into action following the solo.

Through it all, the crowd was eating up each and every offering that the Roots served up; the girls grooved and shimmied while the guys kept their hands in the air (like they just didn’t care) and tried their best to express their enthusiasm while still looking tough.

Despite the dank, steamy atmosphere and the reek of body odor, the crowd was packed into Lasell, with students lining the bleachers along the sides. Sweaty students sang along to many of the songs, but their most passionate reaction was reserved for the opening notes of “The Seed 2.0,” the band’s current hit single. Cody Chesnutt sang the single’s hook, fortifying the performance with his smooth voice, rhythm guitar and huge leather hat. Running the song at a slightly faster tempo, Chesnutt belted out his lines in between Black Thought’s verses and roused the audience to still-greater heights.

Chesnutt stayed onstage with the band after “The Seed” was finished, but the focus thereafter was on the solo work of the other musicians. Kirk’s guitar solo was particularly kinetic. His gray shirt, cut off at the sleeves, exposed tautly muscled arms, creating a visual analog to the frenetic intensity of his playing. The capstone of the solo was when he pulled some Jimi Hendrix-style stunts out of his bag of tricks. He started playing with his guitar in front of him, then raised it to his lips and played it with his tongue, before ending by swinging it around his back to prove his total mastery of the instrument.

Kamal also soloed, oscillating between catchy, musical notes and painfully high cacophonies that left some students clutching their ears in panic. The Roots operate without a traditional turntable DJ, but DJ Scratch filled the role proficiently, creating complex sounds using only his mouth. He was given a chance to showcase his talents for a bit before ?uestlove and Ben began their own personal performance. After several minutes, the duo, bored of their traditional instruments, ran about the stage, rapping their drumsticks on various microphone stands in a clever display of enthusiasm.

Near the end of the show, the Roots blended together another crowd-pleasing medley, this time of older hip-hop classics. Takes on Salt-n-Pepa’s “Push It,” LL Cool J’s “Around the Way Girl” and other songs were well-received, the captive audience eagerly anticipating the next song to be unearthed from the Roots’ mental record crate.

When the Roots finally left the stage after about two-and-a-half hours of performing, a zealous ACE operative led the student clamor for an encore. He apparently never received the memo explaining that encores happen at Williams just about as often as Americans win the Boston marathon, and indeed, no encore was to come.

Nevertheless, it was an outstanding show and the audience left with a collective sense of satisfaction and exhaustion from constantly moving, singing and yelling for the duration of the concert.

When asked about the concert, Mike Winton ’03 said, “I’ve got three words: Best show ever.”

Too often, Williams doesn’t catch its musical acts until they have started the descent from stardom; it was a real treat to spend a night with a group at the top of its game artistically.

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