Grammy Awards Pre-Party Has Chaka Kahn, Ne-Yo Rocking The Roots' Annual All-Star Event
Philly's long-running, multiple-Grammy-nominated live hip hop band The Roots have long been considered one of the best in the game, but one thing's clear following their exuberant, celebratory three-hour-plus marathon show on the night before this year's biggest music awards show: If their current boss, comedian Jimmy Fallon, is ever stupid enough to drop them as the house band on his hit Late Night show, they'll have a second career as the best variety-act band Vegas has ever seen.
That's not a slight, in the least: rather, it's intended as confirmation that The Roots have mastered just about every genre of pop music that there is, playing through a breathtakingly diverse smattering of everything from rock to blues to soul music with representatives new and old from each genre taking turns on the mic in showcase-style performances that were often revelatory and never perfunctory, despite (or perhaps because of) the level of performers involved. The night (hosted by Fallon, who recreated his viral Neil Young impersonation of Willow Smith's "Whip My Hair" to open the show) included turns from everyone from household names like Chaka Kahn ("Tell Me Something Good," natch) to genre favorites like neo-soul girl Estelle (The Roots' "You Got Me") to total newcomers, like the American Idol-ish Sebastian, who used his blue-eyed good looks to his advantage on a groovy cover of the Black Crowes' "Hard to Handle."
What clearly was the running theme was a reverence not just for material but for the backing band themselves. Horn-tooter Trombone Shorty seemed nearly beside himself soloing over The Roots' huge-lunged (and hilariously named) Tuba Gooding Jr.; crooner Ne-Yo was obviously moved by having the support of live instruments; and even classic soul singer Betty Wright was blown away by the band's rendition of her classic "Tonight's the Night." Backstage following her turn, she was full of compliments ("They can do no wrong," she told The Hollywood Reporter after getting a congratulatory hug from Fallon, who asked her point blank to come play on his show.).
When all was said and done, the night didn't belong to out of left-field performers like The Office funnyman Craig Robinson (who delivered a near-perfect Slick Rick impression) or the almost-countless multitude of hungry young rappers devouring their five minuets of fame, but to veteran hip-hopper Doug E. Fresh, who closed out -- and completely stole -- the show. His absolute, ageless charm, whether while beatboxing, singing or leading the crowd through an audience participation rap ("Chinese money is called...", he'd start; "Yen!", the audience responded) was the perfect compliment to The Roots' go-for-broke approach; even on-stage superstar Will I. Am (ostensibly playing keyboards) seemed impressed.
He should have been. Pulling off an event of this scale, even once a year, takes a certain amount of bravery, a smattering of luck and an enormous amount of talent. The Roots are so full of all of those traits, it'd be a treat to see what they'd do if they had the same opportunity once a week.