Concert review: The Roots at 9:30 club, song-surfing at its best

ILL CREW: From left, "Captain" Kirk Douglas, MC Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter, Damon "Tuba Gooding Jr." and Owen Biddle.
ILL CREW: From left, "Captain" Kirk Douglas, MC Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter, Damon "Tuba Gooding Jr." and Owen Biddle. (Kyle Gustafson For The Washingon Post)
Thursday, December 31, 2009

If NBC ever released a compilation of the Roots' performances as house band for "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," the DVD commentary track might make your player explode. The veteran Philly hip-hop overachievers won't finish a tune without referencing pieces of nine others. Their hyperlinked performance style is reliably thrilling, though you do sometimes want to yell at song-surfing bandleader/drummer/Twitter addict Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, "Hey, I was digging that!"

Tuesday night, at the first of two 9:30 club dates, the Roots offered a sweaty, channel-flipping blitz, packing about eight hours of mercilessly funky rap, rock, go-go, jazz and soul into 140 breathless minutes. Though they've continued to tour since they got their house band gig with Fallon, their return to the 9:30 still had a celebratory, school's-out vibe.

An early performance of "How I Got Over," the brassy title cut from their upcoming album, rocked the house so hard that MC Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter shouted "Thank you, good night!" when it was done. But there were two hours and several guest appearances to go -- chiefly Wale, who took video of the crowd with a Flip camcorder while trading verses with Trotter on "Rising Up" and his own "Pretty Girls."

The Roots' discography, though admirable, has rarely captured their onstage range and urgency. The show leaned almost as heavily on those schizo references as on the Roots own material. Guitarist/singer "Captain" Kirk Douglas's made a strong play to steal the gig with a suite of "Sweet Child O' Mine," "Mannish Boy," "Who Do You Love" and "Immigrant Song," among others.

The Roots already provide the most amusing bits on "Late Night," but there's at least one traditional wee-hours-chat-show game you can bet they won't be playing: Stump the band. This band, it don't stump.

-- Chris Klimek

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