The Roots, The Roots Come Alive (1999)
The Roots have garnered mad props for their stage performance, but it’s difficult to tell whether The Roots Come Alive is an accurate reflection. The album kicks off with a vintage performance by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five at the T-Connection circa 1979 (before hip-hop became rap and bullshit). It then segues into a live rendition of “The Next Movement.” Unlike the studio version, however, it seems to lumber forth, as if the Roots were summoning their last bit of energy. Eventually, the album builds momentum, peaking with incendiary versions of “Don’t See Us” and “100% Dundee,” before slowing down for a medley of “Silent Treatment,” “The ‘Notic,” and “You Got Me,” the latter trading in Erykah Badu for an eerie vocal from Jill Scott, who originally wrote Badu’s chorus. Perhaps the biggest revelation on The Roots Come Alive is Black Thought. He shows a surprising range of emotions, from furious on “100% Dundee” to mirthful on “Essaywhuman?!!” and plaintive on “Silent Treatment.” Cajoling, teasing, and exhorting the crowd, you can hear why the Roots play to sell-out crowds worldwide. At one point, the Roots sing the chorus to “Shining Star,” drawing comparisons to Earth, Wind and Fire’s classic live album Gratitude. Perhaps if The Roots Come Alive had been better sequenced – leading off with the Roots’ stronger performances – then it would be held in equally high regard. As is, it’s a good preview that can’t compare to the real thing. MCA.