The Roots: You Can’t Stop Us (Relix Revisited)
Asked about what adjustments, if any, he’s had to make now that he’s playing with a new bassist, Thompson doesn’t flinch. “I think the only difference is that while Hub is definitely more about laying down a groove or a pocket, Owen is more melodic and adventuresome. He wants to go to uncharted territories. I’ve been used to playing in the pocket and not really letting things get out of hand as far as overplaying is concerned, but a lot of that changed when I saw the Chili Peppers show in Philadelphia last year.”
Referring to the onstage rapport that Flea and company have built over the years, Thompson sees a model worth emulating. “They just looked like they were having fun onstage,” he recalls. “They were cracking jokes with each other, and I was like, ‘Damn, why can’t we do that?’ So we’ve been leaning toward actually having fun with each other onstage, which you normally don’t see anybody in hip-hop doing because they’re so serious.” He also cites The Mars Volta—whose lead guitarist and conceptualist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez appears, along with Thompson, on Badu’s latest album, New Amerykah Part One. “The Mars Volta have managed the same challenge we have with a three-hour show. Seeing that really told me we need to shit or get off the pot. We need to really step it up live now.”
To hear Thompson speak so humbly of The Roots’ abilities as a live unit, it’s almost as though he’s implying that the band’s diehard fanbase has been missing something. Many heads would argue that The Roots have always taken their gigs to a higher level of musicianship, but it’s also true that in the last few years, some high-profile jams have made others outside the circle take notice.
Word had started getting around that The Roots were more than just a great, live hip hop band with various collaborations its members had participated in, perhaps most notably when Thompson took the drum kit behind Phil Lesh, John Mayer and blues guitar legend Buddy Guy for the 2005 Jammys. Then the following year, The Roots were invited to take part in a tribute to Bob Dylan at Lincoln Center, and their rendition of “Masters of War” left the entire house in jaw-dropped awe.
“I already had a chip on my shoulder,” Thompson recalls, “because it was like we were expected to do the rap version of the most obvious Dylan song—‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ or something like that.” Roots recording engineer Steve Mandel had given Thompson three CDs full of Dylan songs, and “Masters of War” was the one that stood out. “It’s definitely one of the edgiest middle fingers to the government I’ve heard. But a lot of the appeal of it for me was out of some sort of imaginary revenge fantasy that I had in my head over any blogger that was just, like, scoffing at the idea of us playing a Dylan tribute. I knew I wanted to annihilate that night, so once it went over like gangbusters at Lincoln Center, we were just like, ‘We might as well keep this in the show.’” Ever since, the song has become a Roots live staple.
Last year, Thompson raised eyebrows again when he was invited to play Bonnaroo’s SuperJam with Ben Harper and John Paul Jones. “The funny thing was I told Ben and John, ‘I’ll do this, but I don’t want this to be the Led Zeppelin tribute night.’ And halfway through rehearsal, I’m like, ‘What the fuck—I know this is gonna be a Led Zeppelin tribute night, and I better come with it.’”
The trio started with “When the Levee Breaks,” a song that still amazes Thompson for the sheer strength that Zep drummer John Bonham brought to the original. “Right before I went onstage, I’m sure people were thinking, ‘Well, what do you know about John Bonham? The stuff that Rick Rubin sampled for The Beastie Boys?’” He stops and laughs again at the memory. “And I’m just like, wait ’til you get a load of me! We face that often, so the happy reaction is just to shock people into realizing that we know what we’re doing. But that night was fun. Even though I didn’t want it to be a tribute night, it wound up being that, and I was totally fine with it. And I felt more justified. Bonham himself would have told you that he was basically trying to approximate Motown drummers, just with a heavier hand, and that’s right up my alley.”
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
Ron Sexsmith visits the Relix office to perform a tune from his latest record Forever Endeavor.
Crystal Bowersox stops by Relix to perform a song from her new album, All That For This.
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