There are two words to describe the music of Rootz Underground: "rebel rock." And from the looks of what transpired Wednesday night, rebellion in all its rockin' glory was at hand.
It's been over a year since Rootz's last live show in South Florida -- the band's last performance being the Transatlantic Festival presented by Rhythm Foundation at the North Beach Bandshell. So the crowd that came out to see the band at Pulp Live this past Wednesday was eager as ever. Well, eager might be an understatement; it was more like anxious.
While DJ of the night, reggae connoisseur Jah Stream, played a heavy-handed set of conscious roots-infused reggae, the buzz inside the small venue was quickly becoming more intense.
"They just arrested the lead singer of Rootz Underground outside!" one patron informed the crowd.
"The cops are outside and they wanna come in and raid the place so if you got weed on you, throw it out," yelled another.
Cops? Raid? Did I end up at a Rick Ross concert by accident?
Indeed, when I looked outside, the po-po lights were in full effect, and Rootz Underground's lead singer, Stephen Newland, and guitarist, Charles Lazarus, were both cuffed and ready to be shuffled into a squad car. Rumor has it that the two were caught lighting the ceremonial herb, only to be discovered by Oakland Park police. But out of nowhere, the band's manager, Neil Robertson, came dashing through, pleading the case that the band must go on "for freedom's sake." After several minutes of intense negotiation, Robertson took it for the Rootz Underground team and was sent to the downtown station as both Stephen and Charles were allowed to perform for the crowd of about 250 at Pulp Live.
Having come so close to imprisonment, the band seemed to rush the stage with the same fury and excitement that Mandela must have felt when he was released.The six-piece immediately blasted the venue's soundsystem with raging basslines and drum patterns that got the venue bouncing. The 60-minute set that followed was filled with highlights from the band's debut album, Movement, as well as selections from the upcoming sophomore effort, Gravity. Songs like "Hammer", "How Much Longer" and "Victims of the System" got the place shaking as Newland's high-octane adrenaline performance befitted a hardcore band more than a typical reggae band. More chilled-out songs like "Herb Fields" and "Power to the People," meanwhile, got the crowd singing and swaying along.
Further, there's no question that everyone in the group is a musician's musician. The band's live musical execution is part improv jazz, part new-age modern rock, all put together in a classically trained package. But Newland doesn't agree that Rootz represents some new breed of reggae band. In fact, far from it. "We're not a new breed -- it's the rebel warrior spirit, our ancient spirit traveling from hundreds and thousands of years," he said. "It's the spirit of survival, spirit of love, spirit of overcoming struggles that comes out in our music."
True enough, Rootz's music is as much physical as it is spiritual. "We've been ordained by the Almighty to be doing what we are doing," Newland continued. "It's been a spiritual journey and we look forward to many great things to come our way in the future."
Random Detail: Quote of the night by lead singer Stephen Newland: "No police can fuck up our I and I vibe ever!
By the Way: A massive BIG UP to Neil Robertson for stepping up for the band and the fans by chilling in a holding cell while Rootz killed their performance! If all managers were like Neil Robertson, Kanye West probably would have never bum-rushed Taylor Swift at the VMAs!
-- Esther Park
Check out the latest Rootz Underground's "Fire and Ice"
from the documentary RiseUp (riseupmovie.com) as they show off
their musical prowess and improv skills.