Wednesday, March 4, 2009
The End of Illadelph?
I'm sure many others had the same reaction when watching the debut of "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon": "The Roots gave up touring for this?"
For sure, seeing one of the most vibrant live acts in music give up their legendary shows to be a backup band for the terminally wooden Fallon is puzzling to say the least. Black Thought and ?uestlove know how to get a crowd moving all on their own. Playing vamps for a talk show, becoming simply a part of the set, seems like a waste of that rare talent.
It's easy to balk at the prospect of one of the most stylishly rebellious acts in Hip-Hop to start playing talk shows. Plenty of music bloggers have done just that. But the sheer volume of the hemming and hawing overstates the case. For one, The Roots have not "given up live shows." Written into their contract is the stipulation that they have ten weeks off a year to tour outside of the Philly-New York area. For a group that once played 200 shows a year, it's a big switch, but it's far from giving up tours. The group also continues to work on material for an upcoming new album. Rumors that equate the move to "Late Night" with hanging it all up seem to miss these crucial points.
The decision for them to take on their gig at "Late Night" has to be viewed from the point of view of one of the hardest working bands in the world during a time of economic crisis. When the recession hit last fall, The Roots, like most other acts, saw their tickets sales hit hard. For Black Thought and ?uestlove, who both have families and are pushing forty, such a hectic schedule simply didn't seem tenable.
It would be wrong to not take note the of significance of the first Hip-Hop house band in the history of "Late Night." Hardly earth-shaking, but worth pointing out. In the grand picture, it's part of the overall shift the genre is experiencing right now: towards a greater amount of legitimacy and mainstream acceptance in the wake of the Obama campaign.
By that same token, though, much of the concern for the group becoming watered-down are legit. When ?uesto asked his friend Branford Marsalis about the move, the iconic sax-man advised against it. His own words, in fact, were "you'll be neutered." Marsalis should know. He walked away from his contract as Jay Leno's bandleader in the early 1990s.
The Legendary Roots Crew have made a name for themselves over the past fifteen years because they have pushed the envelope and always culled Hip-Hop's rebel voice the way few others have. One of the last times they showed up on a late night talk show, they were promoting Rising Down--a dense, raw album that was admitted as their most political to date--and wore all black to protest the verdict in the Sean Bell case.
Will they bring that kind of incendiary spirit to the stages of "Late Night?" Hard to imagine when they're only given a few seconds of camera time each night. But of course, time will tell.