The Roots Danced Like Astronauts at the Arsht Center on Saturday, March 31

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The Roots

Adrienne Arsht Center

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Better Than: Just about anything else that was going on in Miami on Saturday night.

It was certainly the finest tuba anywhere in Miami Saturday night. Aside from for Questlove's drums, Damon "Tuba Gooding Jr." Bryson's cheeks expanded to fill the Knight Concert Hall at the Adrienne Arsht Center.

He stood at the edge of the stage, wrapped in his tuba and belting out a rumbling groove. Generations of Miamians pumped their fists over the balcony railings and flailed in the aisles of the orchestra section.

Nine months from now, Jackson Memorial's maternity ward will likely be filled with the curious low wails of dozens of half-tuba babies. These tragic mutants may be the lasting legacy of the Roots' domination of the Arsht Center on Saturday, however the short-term effect of their visit was 90 minutes of pure, uncut awesome.

With most of the stage lights off, the show began with Bryant, Questlove, and percussionist Frank Knuckles backing Black Thought's freestyle. And once the remaining lights flipped on, the crowd flipped out.

The group played an entirely wireless set, allowing Black Thought to fully explore the stage where he rapped and sang from nearly every corner. An unplugged session also meant full-speed guitar, bass, and tuba lap-arounds. Who knew that a grown man could look so effortlessly cool while skipping and playing the tuba?

Throughout the evening, the crowd's enthusiasm never dwindled. From the moments when the Roots would "freeze" on a single note and hold position like superhero action figures, to the seamless way the group extend jams, moving in and out of songs without ever allowing the dancing to stop.

But the Roots are perhaps their own biggest fans.

Questlove wore a Roots t-shirt and during a paint-peeling guitar solo by "Captain" Kirk Douglas, the group smiled and danced more than anyone else in the Arsht Center. It's that joy and sense of play that distinguish them from just a highly proficient group of musicians; a quarter-century's deep catalog of some of the most relevant, forward-thinking hip-hop music doesn't hurt either. And, oh, that tuba!

Are tubas lighter than they look? Apparently not, because when Bryson removed his, he leapt about the stage in Arsht-worthy dance moves reminiscent of an astronaut freed from Earth's clumsy gravity.

Fittingly, the Roots ended their set with the title track off 1995's Do You Want More?!!!??! And with his arms outstretched, Black Thought bellowed, "Can you dig it?"

The answer of course was, yes, Roots, very clearly.

Critic's Notebook

The Crowd: Baseball jerseys, suits, and vests. It was not unlike the large gang scene in The Warriors.

On the Opener: Opening singer Steven A. Clark, who performed with a guitarist and DJ, deserves a special mention. He wore a wide-shouldered suit that narrowed down into something like jodhpurs and combat boots, and sang smooth but rawly syncopated R&B over a soupy mix of synthesizers and 808s. He looks a bit like Jean-Michel Basquiat, has the vocal richness of Seal's early work, and the easy charisma of both.

Personal bias: It's hard to claim impartiality when the ink of my notes is running with dance sweat.

Partial Set List:


"Can't Stop This"

"Let's Take It Back (J Dilla)"

"Mellow My Man"

"Break You Off"

"You Got Me"

"Sweet Child o' Mine (Guns 'N Roses)"

"Who Do You Love? (Bo Diddley)"

"Immigrant Song (Led Zeppelin)"

"Get Busy"

"Jungle Boogie (Kool & the Gang)"

(Drum duet)

"The Next Movement"

"The Seed 2.0"

"Move On Up (Curtis Mayfield)"

"Do You Want More?!!!??!"

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