Red Bull has long been associated with organizing creative events focused around sports designed to find new and exciting ways to become familiar with paramedics and emergency room doctors. In a departure from events featuring bikes, skates, planes or other devices meant to forge new relations with gravitational force, they’ve started to explore the world of music (also see Red Bull Big Tune ). The Sound Clash touched down in Boston, and paired THE ROOTS with ANTIBALAS in a four round format; after a quick warmup of a few songs by both bands, the event order was comprised of ‘The Cover,’ ‘The Takeover,’ ‘The Clash,’ and ‘The Joker.’ The two bands played on opposite stages facing each, with the audience jammed in between, and thronging the balcony which wrapped around the club. DJ KON provided a pre-show warmup of choice funk, disco, and R&B cuts, and AKROBATIK kicked off the event with a brief description of what was going to unfold (his sartorial statement on regional tangent with Celtics regalia on display, including a green headband).
The Roots soon got the room to shake off any remnants of the wintry cold which may still have lingered (themselves shedding jackets), and the groove began in earnest. While most hip-hop live acts revolve around mic work and whatever musical fill is provided by a DJ or sampler, The Roots are a completely potent mix of pure musical proficiency, led by drummer ?UESTLOVE and his cohorts, proving that these types of shows don’t need to degenerate into a glorified karaoke session. With someone like ?uestlove and his legendary record collection guiding the musical content, this is not a possibility. The pounding funk off “Here I Come” turned the crowd into a writhing mass of arms up and asses wiggling. When you’ve got a tuba (well, it’s actually a sousaphone) player (*TUBA GOODING JR*, natch!) whirling and circling and jumping around while blasting out deep sonorous tones, that beats a stage of decks and samplers any day of the week.
Tuba Gooding Jr
Antibalas (a dozen strong jamming the small stage) took charge during ‘The Cover’ and good-naturedly put an exclamation point on it when it came their turn to toss the song back over to The Roots, with the horn section dropping their instruments from their mouths in time to shout “Norm!” The ‘Takeover’ twist was the appropriation of one band’s song by the other, so that meant The Roots got to put their tight and sweaty R&B/funk/rap musical imprint over ‘Dirt and Blood’ which had the Antibalas crew cracking up, while the Roots songs got the local rhythms of Havana and Lagos decorating “Star” and “Please Don’t Go.”
The Clash was prompted by whatever DJ Kon decided to drop his needle onto; the bands had to rework one of their songs into whatever musical style emanated from the vinyl grooves. The bass-heavy template of dub was a perfect match for the stentorian sub-sonic blasts from Tuba Gooding Jr, and Antibalas had the homework assignment of finding a jazz thread in their multi-genre hopping sound. The Joker ended the ‘competition’ (in reality, it was meant to be a collaborative effort, and both bands did this beautifully), which afforded the bands the opportunity to do whatever they wanted. The joyous highlife sound of Antibalas (especially effectively fueled by an insistent trombone) prompted a sax player (either band founder MARTIN PERAS or STUART BOGIE, I can’t recall exactly which) to do a bit of room exploration via crowd surfing over the tops of bodies.
Turns out the stage was large enough to accommodate twenty-plus performers, and a rousing cover of a FELA KUTI song by both bands cemented the feeling of joy and brotherhood which saturated the room; this was definitely the most racially-integrated show I’ve been to in Boston, and these two bands were ideal choices to bring it alive. I just checked, and my head is still boppin’ and my ass is still shakin’.
setlist photo courtesy of Jason Bergman
more photos of both bands can be seen via my site