Erykah Badu and the Roots
Mizner Park Amphitheater, Boca Raton
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Better than: Listening to Lil Wayne's "Lollipop" on the radio for the umpteenth time.
You never know what you're going to get when you see the Roots concert. The band has roughly 14 years of material to pull from and 10 albums full of hits that can drive a crowd crazy. They thoroughly wear the title "legendary" well not just because they're one of the best hip-hop groups of all time (which they are), but collectively, they're one of the best bands of the 20th century, period.
And although it was a short set, last night, the Roots had everyone at Mizner Park bobbing up and down, dancing, singing, laughing, and basically making sure we all had a good time as they cranked out lot's of good music, some old, some new.
Their latest LP, Rising Down, is a much darker release than what a lot of Roots fans are accustomed to and during a recent interview with ?uestlove of the band, he talks about the group throwing negativity in people's faces on purpose to jar us all awake.
While that's necessary at times, yesterday was way too beautiful of a day for negativity or political rants or any of that shit and thankfully, the Roots kept it fun.
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They cycled through a bunch of jams like Biz Markie's "Just a Friend" and the Sugarhill Gang's version of "Apache" just to keep the party vibe alive. It was definitely more of a rock set...and the band's favorite showboat, Captain Kirk Douglas, solo'd like crazy to show that his guitar skills are insane. But they also hit crowd favorites, "You Got Me," teased "Mellow My Man" and absolutely killed three quarters of the Things Fall Apart album, which is arguably their best.
The set up of the band was a little different this time as ?uest's drum-kit was set up at the front of the stage--directly at stage right, to give him more prominence. I've never seen them do that before as he's usually in the back...but then again, ?uest is no ordinary drummer. Plus he and Black Thought are the only original members of the band left, so it's all good. Of the seven artists who rocked last night, they all looked to be having fun as if there was a collective energy that we were all creating which couldn't be broken. Erykah Badu would speak on that energy after she hit the stage an hour later.
But before that happened, I caught up with ?uest after their set was over and asked him what he thought of the show.
"It's just a real fun night for some reason," he said with a laugh. "It's a little hard on us though cause that was three hours worth of music crammed into a 45 minute set."
And it did seem like a short set for a band with so much material. The venue was only half full upon my arrival and a lot of folks who showed up fashionably late might have missed the Roots entirely.
After chopping it up with ?uesto, a looong set break ensued. Everyone drank, lit up reefers, flirted, and found a way to pass the time, but it seemed like a full hour went by in between the Roots going off stage, and Erykah coming on.
The wait was totally worth it though as Erykah hit the stage like a seasoned veteran. She came out and welcomed everyone to the Vortex Tour--and started creating more swirling energy as quickly as possible. Erykah is all about creating a collective force with the audience--and she went into detail about how there's a vortex in the Florida Keys that we were all vibrating off of at the show. Her wardrobe was dark and funky...like she'd just left a funeral, but the music was uplifting and that juxtaposition was nice. I kept thinking she had the spirit of Billie Holiday on stage but my gut was telling me that wasn't right. Then it hit me--Josephine Baker! Erykah was cute, couture, vivacious, and almost European in the way that she commandeered the stage. This wasn't just soul music or R&B, this was world music...it was Parisian and Ethiopian and way more than just the neosoul tag that everyone wants to give her.
Most of the initial part of her performance centered around new tracks off of her latest album, New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) which left a lot of the crowd in the dark. People in the audience either new every word or looked totally lost.
By her third song, people behind me were clamoring under their breath, "Do something off of Mama's Gun...or something we recognize." Even though the music was banging, half the crowd were on their feet and the other half was sitting down trying to find a groove.
That soon changed by the time she jumped into "the Healer" a song off of her new album that's so funky, nobody could deny it.
She gave the crowd what they wanted eventually, and started doing more hits like, "On and On" and "Orange Moon."
The only thing that was weird about the show was that she dragged listeners though lots of emotions. We were up, down, jumping around, sleepy, ready to go home, then back on our feet, hoping it wouldn't end. She even jumped on a beat machine and started banging out live beats of all kinds of booty music. "Back That Ass Up" and "Shake that Ass" were recognizable--and all the drunk girls in the audience started backing that ass up to Erykah's homemade booty music.
After and hour and some change, she left the stage and it seemed like it was the end of the show...but she came back on stage 10 minutes later dressed in an aerobic outfit for an encore/second set. This time she was in more of a performing arts mode. She danced like Alvin Ailey and was super eclectic the whole time. She even had workout balls on stage worked into her routine as she sang, "Green Eyes."
She left the stage again after awhile, and I just knew the show was over. I even left the venue and was headed to my car when she came back on stage for a third time. She couldn't give up the mic. The vibe was too strong for her and as a practically full moon peered down on the stage, Erykah acknowledged it ("Look at the moon y'all") and then went totally hip-hop. Rocking a purple hoody, she teased Dilla's "My People" for a few seconds and then jumped into "Bag Lady" which sent the crowd into a frenzy. With a funky Dr. Dre beat, she rocked one of her most popular songs, then let the DJ play, "Ain't No Fun if the Homies Can't Have None" You couldn't help but laugh as the misogynistic lyrics pumped through the speakers and Erykah danced anyway. She closed with "Honey" and semi crowd-surfed as she sang it. Then she shouted out J Dilla one more time and finished with "Didn't Cha Know," a track that he produced for her before his passing. It was a great night of music and it's undeniable that both acts created a vortex that local music fans will remember for a long time. Even Erykah shouted, "I'll never forget this night" to let us all know that we were on the same page.
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Persona Bias: The Roots should have had a longer set. I'm glad that Erykah could rock for more than two hours but the roots could have had an hour and a half--or at least started their set a little later. Lot's of folks missed them completely.
Random Detail: Backstage, ?uestlove got all giddy when some video program execs gave the band a bunch of games for their tour bus. Management to ?uest: "Yo, I want you to meet the video game folks who are here. ?uest: "Did they give us the game?? (grins). Management: "Yeah, they gave us a bunch of games." ?uest: "How many games did we get? (smile on face starts to widen). "Management: "A lot!" And with that, the world could have ended and ?uest wouldn't have given a shit.
By the Way: All of Erykah's songs tease Dilla beats for a couple of seconds before they start. Random, but it's true. Also, Erykah is 37 and doesn't look a day over 32. At least not with make-up on anyway.