Monday, June 24, 2013

Live Review: Jim James + The Roots - Prospect Park, Celebrate Brooklyn - June 18th, 2013

Jim James and The Roots played a benefit show for Celebrate Brooklyn with the conceived notion and billing of a “collaborative concert.” People have been clamoring for this ever since the “Dear God 2.0” mash up. These, folks, are what I live for. It’s to me, the exact opposite of the “festival” set. Something, that, most likely you will never be able to see again. It doesn’t get any better than that.

As it would turn out, things played out in an, “ok…I guess that’s what it said…and that’s what they did” kind of way. Jim James played his standard solo set. It rocked. The Roots played their idiosyncratic set of fluid vast diversities. It was unreal, tight and everything I could ask for in a first Roots viewing. Then, they came together to play their collaborative number and three imaginative and well executed covers. Something you’re probably not going to see often, or most likely…ever again.

Everything you’d want in a Jim James/Roots collaborative event. I mean, I could ask for a bigger collaborative portion, but what Brooklyn received was a succinct, highly entertaining, high energy collaboration between two power houses, one of which, are local heroes and international legends.

Jim James

I recently saw Jim James on his solo tour at Webster Hall, and called the concert a “gamechanger,” along with pontificating that I had NO CHOICE but to see the upcoming Jim James/Roots show. If Jim James is in town, that’s a must see event. Everytime. All the time. Mark it down. I will now live by this, and in that write up, I was more or less furious with myself that I hadn’t made this effort and paved that path a long time ago. I know things come up, but seriously, clear the Jim James path y’all. You won’t regret it.  

This set, was pretty much the same set as Webster, only an opening set (shorter) and outdoors. And, in particular, with RAIN. James seemed to be enjoying the waterworks, like youth that pray for rain football. Cue the Jack Johnson, relax, and enjoy a delightful summer concert in the perfect summer mist. I had a similar experience when I went to Celebrate Brooklyn to see Wilco last year. When the rain comes down, keeping everyone cool, but not really being a detracting soaker, it’s just glorious. One or two times a year, I am perfectly fine with this arrangement. I just put all my electronics in a plastic bag, which coincidently wasn’t even totally needed until some dimwit spilled an entire beer right on my cargo pocket!? Wow. Thank God for Ziplock, and my luck in THAT ordeal. That could have been disastrous; instead, there was enough rain to slowly but surely, cleanse my leg and my Ziplocked electronics.

Jim James, or as I have branded his solo stage presence, floating Duck Dynasty Jesus, spent the majority of his set doing his thing from side to side, singing to guitar to sax to floating—all the while donning a rag roof over his dome. He would just wear his sweat rag over his head as a…well that’s what was kind of funny. HE WAS UNDER THE ROOF. Ha. It seemed to be a solidarity play with the audience. He took a moment early in the set between songs to fire up the crowd, bantering about how everyone was making a delicious rainbow, and it was a sight to behold, and basically branded the rain set as a special event as I did above. Everything in moderation, right?

I figure there is no need to waste a ton of space detailing this particular set, as I covered it pretty well in the Webster show, and I have more compelling takes on the back half of the show. Either way, it was amazing to see this set again, and I stand by the fact that I could watch this set every night and stand mesmerized, jaw to the floor. Even if I don’t think it’s the BEST possible setlist Jim James could play. The new album is spectacular, one of the best of the year thus far, but I could use some Yim Yames George Harrison covers, or perhaps a few MMJ songs in the mix. But, I get it. This is “solo time” and the material he has, and plays, certainly holds court.

The man can do no wrong.

State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.)
Know Til Now
Dear One
A New Life
All Is Forgiven
God's Love to Deliver
The Right Place (Monsters of Folk cover)
Changing World (New Multitudes cover)

The Roots

Tight. Fluid. Eclectic. Does any other band practice as often as The Roots? They are on another level, perhaps even a level and a half in cohesive lucidness.

I seriously think The Roots could cover a Girl Talk song if they wanted to. They are really in a special time and place for a band. Being NYC and worldwide legends for starters. They, for a couple of years now, have made about 1,000ish episodes of Jimmy Fallon (858 according to Wikepedia as of June 21st), to which they have to CONSTANTLY come up with little nuggets of music everytime the show comes in and out of commercial breaks. Think about it!? 858 shows!? About SIX times a show they have to come in and out of commercial break. Let alone, most of those TV bands warm up the audience before taping by playing some songs, or if they are changing production sets during tapings. During tapings, it’s not like they HAVE to come back within two-and-a-half minutes of commercials. Often times, it’s much longer. That’s a TON right there. Then, practicing for all of that. Then, there is recording albums. Tours. Practice, practice, practice.

It makes me think of Malcom Gladwell’s assessment of the Beatles in his 10,000 hours to become a master thesis. Detailing how they would have to play eight-hour marathon shows with covers, different styles and so forth. I think this situation trumps that. Mostly, because this was a legendary, veteran, POPULAR band before all of that started around 2009. So, that separates them from any of the other TV show bands right there. Even Paul Schaffer, who has been playing everyday on TV for like 35,000 years. The Roots must have like 50,000 hours in. I haven’t done the math on it, but I’m going to say they have at least went platinum FIVE times on the 10,000 hours rule. Though mathematically impossible, I stand by the fun arbitrary stand at the ultimate superlative.

I think everyone in the audience could write down a song and Questlove could pull them out of a hat Whose Line is it Anyway? style, and they’d simple count, “1,2,3…” and begin playing song after song after song. At times, their set would do JUST THAT. They would play one of their songs, let’s just say for pun glory “The Next Movement” and then all the sudden they will merge into “Jungle Boogie.” This will lead into some sort of Jazzy improv song which will somehow blend into Led Zeppelin. The Led Zeppelin song will bleed into a sheering tuba solo. Yeah, I said a TUBA SOLO. A damn good one too. That tuba player runs and jumps around the stage like he’s playing a flute. It’s a TUBA!? How does one jump so freekin’ high with a TUBA!? Anyway, tangent aside, the tuba solo transitions smoothly into “______” Top 40 pop song. That song will then become a guitar solo that bends itself into a Frampton-esque talk box solo. When that’s finished, Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter will freestyle. Then, they will jam a “BIG ROCK FINISH” of improv excellence. End song sequence.

Exhausting. How the hell did that happen? And…what’s next?

The Roots have often been branded as the “first legitimate hip-hop BAND.” Which I like, because it seems weird to see an MC like Jay-Z up there with just a Mic and someone turning knobs. More power to the ability to command, sure, but The Roots have two keyboards, two percussionists, an out of control tuba (did I mention this?), guitar, MC and bassist. It’s a FULL BAND. And, they played live at Prospect Park, like a bunch of kids cooped up watching TV all day in the rain. When the stage lights came up, it was sunny, and they wanted to PLAY. The tuba player, bassist and guitar player myriad times were engrossed in full out synchronized dance movements. Shit like that is just so fun to me. The stuff you get when you see a show, and performers are bringing so much more to the performance. That’s the addiction, ladies and gents!

My favorite part was towards the end, again, just a little nugget from the show, but I enjoyed it thoroughly, as I’d never seen anything like it. The secondary percussionist (I don’t think being called “second percussionist is a slight, when the “first percussionist” is Questlove) ran to center stage and joined Black Thought during a very fast rhyme session. Only, he knew the cadence so well, he was able to gyrate next to him in perfect precision to the words and feeling of the enunciations. Kind of a tough thing to describe, but again, I found myself mesmerized by this little jamming moment. It looked really fucking fun!

I didn’t write down a setlist, because I didn’t know all the songs, and with all the moving in and out of song movements they did, I think it’d be quite a task. Setlist FM didn’t even really come up with a sufficient answer either. I know they closed with “The Seed 2.0” which is pretty much everyone’s favorite Roots song. I remember going CRAZY when that song came out (late college for me…), and really tapping into that feeling when they brought it out on this particular evening. It’s just an invigorating little ditty packed with oodles of soul and an impeccably catchy hook.

I think Jay-Z said it best, without a full band on, The Black Album, “What more can I saaaaaaaaaaaayyyy…”

 The Roots + Jim James 

This moment is what all the ballyhoo was about, right? Four songs. Let the magical moment begin!?

The setlist pretty much says it all…

Dear God 2.0
I Could Never Take Place of Your Man (Prince cover)
Use Me (Bill Withers cover)
Instant Karma (John Lennon cover)

Bam! Feeling Jim James with THAT big of a backing band was an experience in itself. I’m loving that I got to hear THAT voice sing “Instant Karma,” which is a belter of all sorts. It was sad, because when you heard it, you KNEW that was the end. You just really can’t top that from a vocal/closing/showmanship standard. It has “these are the credits” written all over it.

“Dear God 2.0” was really the only moment you saw James and Black Thought share the stage together. Hypothetically, I would think they would be able to come up with SOMETHING they could do together that would be unique. Not a complaint, but really that’s the only thing I walked away scratching my head about. In fact, Black Thought pretty much left the stage after that song until he came back out at the very end to wave and help Questlove throw autographed books, drumsticks and setlists into the crowd.

The Bill Withers song was just so FUNKY! That’s all I really have to say about that. Ok, I’ll add, I didn’t really know “Use Me” prior to the set, but it’s a classic 1972 funk song that was taken to new heights by the vocal prowess of Jim James. He was meant to sing songs like this. It takes me back to the Evil Urges tour. To be honest with you, I thought this was like a Prince song or something. Actually, as it would turn out, they had just played Prince’s “I Could Never Take Place of Your Man,” a song MMJ plays from time to time. It sounded familiar, but I walked away from the show having not a clue what it was. If you don’t know exactly, you don’t know. That’s how it goes with setlists. Ha.

All in all, quite an eclectic encore as bill, collaboration fulfilled. It lived up to the epic hype proportions. Of course, I want them to play forever. I was hoping for FIVE songs, if you put a gun to my head, that was my expectation. This was done very well though, and the moment they were all on stage was as aggrandizing as one could ever imagine. The stratosphere in Brooklyn had to bend a tad, to hold it all in. It pained mother nature, but everyone has to make sacrifices. Perhaps, that’s what all the crying was about early on. It was a birth!?

Until next time, I guess you’ll just have to settle for these two amazing bands on their own respective tours. Which, in itself is worth the price of admission. It’s always the little something extra that takes a night to the top, though isn’t it? I feel like both of these acts did that in their own ways, and then together, to make something a little extra special, and raising a little something special, in the name of Celebrate Brooklyn.

Those involved couldn’t be more proud. Or entertained. Yes, please, more things like this!?  

Author's note: I really didn't spend much time taking pics, and only had my portable camera. I DID, however realize my portable camera has a better zoom than my big-dog, though the pics come out kind of grainy, it is sort of nice. My buddy Scott was next to me with a nicer camera, and I was just going to use his pics. Then, I looked at these and decided they conveyed the message of the visual I wanted, though not really stunning as photographs as art by themselves. Good enough, and kind of more me, and fitting to the style I wrote this piece in. Kind of loose and off-the-cuff. Freewheeling. 

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