The Roots dig deep

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February 7, 2011

10:38 PM

The first Charter Day concert at William and Mary Hall, produced by AMP, was a roaring success Saturday night, with Lafayette, La’s. own Givers opening for the 11-time Grammy-nominated Roots.

In the past, William and Mary Hall has been notorious for its poor acoustics. Last fall’s Orientation entertainer was rendered nearly unintelligible when rain moved his performance from Matoaka Amphitheater into the Hall. Strong echoes, frequent feedback and low-quality sound equipment left many students asking, “Huh? What did he say?” That was not the case this weekend, though, with acoustic dampening curtains and superb speakers that rendered the performance crisp and clear.

The crowd was mostly William and Mary students, many of whom packed the standing-room-only floor space closest to the stage. There were plenty of Hampton Roads area residents of various ages in attendance, perhaps hinting that, just as George Mason has done with its Patriot Center, William and Mary ought to look into using the Hall as a top-flight concert venue more often.

The opening act, Givers, has performed on the Sadler Center terrace as part of AMP’s Fridays at Five. Their high-energy, upper-register afro pop was reminiscent of Vampire Weekend, but with soul to spare. The group rocked out and gave an impressive air to their performance. Givers played four or five songs before vacating the stage, allowing the Roots’s road crew to set up for the headlining act.

The Roots took the stage about 15 minutes later, with rapper Black Thought commanding the spotlight and reciting his own gritty form of poetry over an impeccable six-piece band of bass, guitar, keyboard, drums, percussion and tuba. Yes — a rock and roll, hip-hop tuba. The group came out with unrivaled energy and unmatched intensity. The experience of having played together for nearly 15 years showed. Black Thought would stop, mid-verse, to address the audience, and the rest of the band would freeze in place as though frozen in time, until the rapper, and seemingly time itself, resumed.

The combination of the prominently featured horn, the funky guitar work, and Thought’s intensity and approach gave the concert the feel of a modern day, hip-hop James Brown show, and one has to imagine that the Godfather of Soul would have smiled at the performance.

Just as The Roots did not disappoint the crowd, the crowd did not disappoint The Roots. Multiple times throughout the show, the guitarist and the tuba player pointed to the fans standing at the top of the stands against the back wall, and Black Thought even stopped a song to express his love for the fans in the back, who had begun to sway to the music like a gigantic human wave.

About 45 minutes into the show, the band stepped offstage to take a quick break and left drummer ?uestlove and F. Knuckles onstage. The band began a musical battle of dueling drums, with ?uestlove playing a drum beat and his partner replicating it on his bongos and congas. After a few minutes of this, however, each drummer picked up a snare drum and continued playing as he walked down the stage steps. With security following them warily, the two men, still playing their drums, began the long climb into the stands, up the stairs, and all the way to the top of Kaplan Arena to commune with their most dedicated cheering section. It was a sight to see, with the Grammy-nominated musicians swaying arm-in-arm with hundreds of college students.

All in all, the first Charter Day concert was a smashing success, combining two bands known for their eclectic sounds with an equally eclectic audience of students from all over the globe and residents of Hampton Roads. Three hundred eighteen years ago King William I and Queen Mary III gave America something to celebrate with the chartering of the College, and Saturday night, The Roots gave us a chance to celebrate again.

To view a slideshow from the concert, click here.

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