Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Back to the Roo(ts)

Ok, now that we've had a couple interludes in the worlds of comedy and politics, I'll get back to the matter at hand.

That being: Bonnaroo

That meaning: the Roots

Remember when I wrote that not all the acts were transcendent? Well, some of them were. And this was the act that first made possible the change from a fun weekend to something important if not life-changing for the people involved.

Jason and I had a good spot on the grass off to the left of the soundboard and back a bit. And the Roots came though with flying colors: power, passion, incredible musicianship and performance energy. Black Thought proved his mastery as an M.C.; ?uestlove was amazing on drums and percussion, at home in every rhythm; the horns were supertight and on point; guitars and keys rode the waves of hip hop, rock and funk. Everybody is a Star, and it felt that way, with live musicians in the physical universe, not a sampler in sight. The kind of show that reminds you why you love to go to shows - infectious in all the right ways.

What do we want?
Roots Crew!
When do we want it?
Right Now!

At one point Black Thought and the horns left the stage, leaving the rhythm section and Captain Kirk Douglas on guitar as the core for a mini set that took us all by the neck, shook us around, opened our eyes, cleaned the debris from the wrinkles in our brains and when they finally let go of our throats we found we could breathe better than ever.

The centerpiece of this set was a version of Dylan's Masters of War which opened to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner. Sing along now:

Where you'd start 'Oh say, can you see,' instead begin:

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs

'Whose broad stripes...'

You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

'And the rockets red glare...' now

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy

'Oh say, does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave'

You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes

And here we devote all the vocal attention anyone ever gave to the word 'free' to the word 'run'

And you turn and run
When the fast bullets fly

Hendrix had nothing on them. Ok, he did guitar-wise, but in terms of significance of interpretation and activist theatrical performance, not an inch.

Then they finished off the song with Dylan's melody, of course inserting their own musical elements.

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

You fasten the triggers
For the others to fire
Then you set back and watch
When the death count gets higher
You hide in your mansion
As young people's blood
Flows out of their bodies
And is buried in the mud

You've thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain't worth the blood
That runs in your veins

How much do I know
To talk out of turn
You might say that I'm young
You might say I'm unlearned
But there's one thing I know
Though I'm younger than you
Even Jesus would never
Forgive what you do

They did spend a little extra time on the final line of that verse. It bore repeating.

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could?
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

And I hope that you die
And your death'll come soon
I will follow your casket
In the pale afternoon
And I'll watch while you're lowered
Down to your deathbed
And I'll stand o'er your grave
'Til I'm sure that you're dead

I guess it can be effective once in a while to give vent to rage, can't it? Thanks for bearing with the long quotation.

The full Roots Crew eventually made it back to the stage and they funked up the joint like crazy. I know i'm making it sound like they are a full-out political band, but they're not. They have a political side, natch, but they don't go too far with it, and they never forget about having fun. When they finally wrapped, after the encore, I found Sherin and J.P. and started planning our next moves. J.P. stopped me and said - "Wait a minute. Dude. The Roots. Was that just incredible?!"

Yes dude. It was.

But I'm sure those folks at the Lily Allen show had a really good time too ;)

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