Monday, September 19, 2005

What They Do

The Roots, TV on the Radio and Deerhoof @ The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts Philadelphia, PA 9/16/05
Though originally not a benefit, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, this became a benefit for hurricane relief, which made me and Anne feel better about paying $60 or so for this eccentric Philly hip-hop meets indie-rock triple bill.

Anyway, to start things off, Deerhoof played a cacophonous (in a good way) set of no-wave influenced clatter (again, in a good way) with cooing female vocals (think a combination of God is My Co-Pilot and recent Blonde Redhead) that left most of the members of the audience (clearly there to see the Roots) or I should say, whoever was there (as most of the audience wasn't even there for their set nor for TV on the Radio's set as well), perplexed, confused or just plain bored. In their defense, I have to say that Deerhoof (like TV on the Radio) clearly didn't come off as well as they probably would've in say, a small club. They play North Six in a few weeks, so I may be able to give a total different review then.

TV on the Radio were up next and they played a set which encompassed material from their 2003 ep Young Liars, their 2004 full-length Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes and the new "Drunk Dry Emperor", which was appropriately dedicated to President Bush. They sound like Peter Gabriel (their vocalist) singing for Suicide (buzzing guitarists, one with his back to the audience and one out front, creating walls of feedback similar to Suicide's bludgeoning static synth flourishes) with the additional accompaniment of a barbershop quartet (their harmonies). I know that might seem like a lazy description and too similar to the all too often used A+B+C=D way of describing bands' sounds, but I just can't think of another way to describe this unique band. They came off a bit better than Deerhoof did, but again, they would've been much better in a club and of course, as most of the audience was their to see the hometown heroes (The Roots), the crowd response was a bit low as well.

And then The Roots came on. They made one of the most unique entraces I've ever seen. A New Orleans marching band procession that started on the street (complete with drummer Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson on bass drum and MC Black Thought on a megaphone) went into the venue, in the aisles and up towards the stage where all the performers took their places. In addition to their normal set-up (an MC, guitarist, bass player, drummer and Korg synth/keyboardist), they added the marching band on many tracks and even a string quartet (this venue is normally used for classical performances) for a few. Anyway, the set started out very strongly, but after 30 or 40 minutes, they ran out of steam for a little while, but got back into the groove with an incredible version of the (on record) 10-minute plus "Water", which they must've extended to 25-minute, jam-band length (I didn't time it but I should've). Among other things, this version contained a battle between the keyboard player and ?uestlove, who's incidentally one hell of a drummer. After a short break, they brought out Jill Scott (who also sang their biggest hit "You Got Me" when I saw them back in 1999; Erykah Badu sings it on the recorded version) to sing back-up on one song and then she had her own mini-set (well it was only one song) with her own guitarist backing her up. After that, I thought that it would over soon, but they proceeded to play for at least another hour (they played for almost 2 and a half hours). To be honest, they did get a little tedious (and I was a bit tired), but overall I thought they were good and much better than the 1999 show I saw at Roseland (at that show, they totally killed the vibe by having a so-so group called Black Moon perform for 30 minutes or so and this was maybe 20 minutes into their own set; also they spent way too much time noodling at that performance as well). They left the same way they came in, with the marching band leading the way and the band members following and the procession continued onto the street with over 500 people watching them as well!

Overall, they don't have a lot of memorable songs, but they're notable for being one of the very few hip-hop acts that use live instruments, thus making for a much more effective show than most rappers/hip-hop groups, who tend to bludgeon your ears with an MC and a lousy-sounding turntable. It might work on record, but rarely does that setup work well live (IMO, of course). Also, I have to credit them for exposing their audience to bands like TV on the Radio and Deerhoof, who perhaps made a few new fans on this evening. With that in mind, every time I've seen them (this was my 3rd time, though the first time was at a spring festival at my college back in 1997 where they played a great but shortened set) they've managed to draw one of the most diverse audiences I've ever seen. It's nice to see a modern-day band that atracts a multi-racial audience as well as one from different subcultures of the music scene where fans of rap/hip-hop, alternative rock, punk and hippie jam bands can all come together.

Furthermore, I have to add that it was a little like watching Prince's Madison Square Garden show last year, only much better, partially because I was sitting much closer to the stage (right behind the soundboard) and it was in a much smaller venue as well. The point is that it was more like a party with people dancing and going bonkers in the aisles rather than a typical, normal rock or pop concert, and I appreciated that aspect of it as well. Ultimately, though, with their extended compositions, an keyboardist that often sounds like the one from Medeski, Martin & Wood (who in turn often sounds like many classic jazz organists) and their penchant for soloing, they're a hip-hop jam band, which really isn't as bad as it sounds (in fact it's often quite good).


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