Roots : London Camden Jazz Cafe

Roots : London Camden Jazz Cafe

Trust us: the full tour in March will be legend

Amidst December’s glut of hip-hop albums, The Roots‘ ‘Phrenology’ was an endlessly fascinating late challenger for 2002’s album of the year. For the best part of a decade now, the Philadelphia crew have fused rap with live funk, been break-friendly musicians-for-hire (they backed Jay-Z on his ‘Unplugged’ session) and made a sequence of – we thought – worthy but dull albums.

The wild explorations of ‘Phrenology’, however, blow preconceptions out of the water. And this heinously exclusive live show drills home the point even harder: The Roots are flat-out astounding. First, wipe away ideas that hip-hop with instruments is soft or compromised. Here’s Black Thought, slugging Red Bull and draped in a fluffy white towel, off on a vicious rap through ‘Thought @ Work’ while his band play with an economy and sharpness that gives old samples new sinews.

You worry with this sort of thing that the band might get off too much on their own excellence, that hip-hop’s needle-skipping immediacy might be sacrificed for muso indulgence. The Roots are, indeed, frighteningly good musicians, but one of their many remarkable features is their discipline, intensity and total lack of wank. It’s a tiny caveat in the context of such a great gig but, if anything, you want them to stretch out more, play more of the free noise passages that make ‘Phrenology’ such a wonder.

Because here’s a band who calmly suggest, then prove, they can do anything. Every one of them sings brilliantly, even their sainted drummer ?uestlove, an Afroed Buddha with a personalised Arsenal shirt. They can kick like a DC hardcore band, or pull off a perfect Run DMC tribute, should the mood take them. Trust us: the full tour in March will be legend.

John Mulvey