Music review: The Roots and Legend wake up N.Y.

Posted by Eli Cohen

On Sept. 23, veteran hip-hop group The Roots came together with R&B crooner John Legend and legendary director Spike Lee at Terminal 5, a nightclub located in Hell's Kitchen, New York.?

The concert was broadcast live and for free on Youtube to publicize the new collaboration album "Wake Up!" that was released two days earlier on Sept. 21.?

The partnership has allowed The Roots, a group known for playing its own instruments rather than having a backing DJ, to display a more rock 'n roll side to its musicianship. The group proves its worth with scorching guitar solos from Captain Kirk Douglas and powerful drum beats by the revered Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson. "Wake Up!" presented Legend with a chance to depart from his usual piano-backed ballads, and allowed him to play what some might consider more substantial, ambitious music.

The Roots, a historically outspoken politically charged group, and Legend claim that they were inspired by the 2008 presidential election to record this album. This vision lead the artists to re-imagine 1960s and 1970s soul music for the new record.

Except for the closing track "Shine," which was written by Legend, the record is composed exclusively of covers from classic songwriters such as Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye.? The show, however, integrated originals by both The Roots and Legend, combining smooth hip-hop, courtesy of Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter, with Legend's soulful brand of rhythm and blues.?

Guest appearances were made by celebrated Chicago rapper Common and R&B diva Jennifer Hudson. Both artists are featured on the new album. These two very different musical forces combined smoothly and effortlessly. Pure enjoyment emanated from every performer and there was no struggling for attention or reserve. Both The Roots and Legend threw themselves full-bodied into their performance.

They played with no opening act, and only one short break in the set. The amount of physical exertion was clear from Legend's sweated-through button down shirt.

The Thursday night concert, for which tickets were a mere $36, featured John Legend staples, including "Green Light" and "Ordinary People." The set list also included some less predictable choices, such as "I Can't Write Left-Handed," a song focused on the Vietnam War. They also played "The Fire," a cover of Canadian indie-rockers Arcade Fire, demonstrating the band's diverse musical interests.?

"Wake Up!" combines the Marvin Gay-esque heartfelt singing of John Legend with the funk rap that The Roots have become known for.

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