The Roots steal the show from Gym Class Heroes

A review of Gym Class Heroes and The Roots at the Worcester Palladium on October 30

, Staff Writer

Worcester’s Palladium features a huge stage area with platforms that rise up from the pit area, allowing audience members to lean against brass bars while enjoying a perfect view of the performers on stage. The place to be for The Roots and Gym Class Heroes, however, was as close to the front of the stage as possible. To be in the trenches with the fans, waving hands in the air as the speakers blast driving beats into your cranium is the only way to go. The co-headliners both performed full sets after a brief performance by UK DJ Estelle. The Roots brought the house down in expected fashion. Gym Class Heroes? Well, even though they were the de facto main act, they were completely blown away by the guys playing before them. There was no competition, they didn’t stand a chance.

The Roots swaggered confidently on-stage, keyboardist Kamal Gray and Black Thought parading around, proudly showing off their Phillies gear before they started playing. They kicked things off with bombast and flare, busting out "Rising Up" off their latest release Rising Down and immediately segueing into "Get Busy", also from the new& album. "Get Busy" really got things moving, its fat, badass bass-line irresistible to those in the crowd. Questlove layed down a tight beat as Gray fired synthesized laser beams into the mix, and while Black Thought’s individual lyrics were hard to hear over the rest of the band, his rapping added a ton of flavor to the sound, his vocal cadences falling with impeccable accuracy.

After getting the crowd pumped, the squad played a few cuts off of Game Theory. Of particular note was "Long Time", which turned into a humongous undertaking: they played the song, sure, but things eventually gave way to a Questlove/Knuckles drum circle, who proceeded to trade off phrases for a good five-minutes. They returned to the main beat and kept things going, immediately following with a straight-up cover of "Sweet Child O’ Mine". From the moment they started playing GNR, it became the Captain Kirk Douglas show. He belted out Axl Rose like it was nobody’s business. They then proceeded to play "Bad To The Bone", which turned into a huge blues jam. Douglas played an incredible solo that was so effing metal, tearing his axe apart as the crowd watched in an amazed stupor, especially given that prior he had done little else but play some funky chords. It was a mind-bogglingly good showcase of his skills in a band that is filled with very accomplished musicians.

To watch The Roots perform is like watching a jam band that happens to play hip hop. Their songs have a free-form quality to them that allows the band to go wherever they please, be it an extended drum solo or blues mode. The thing is, they have the two genres down to a T and are able to rock out in unabated fashion for a quarter of an hour then immediately fall back into a groovy beat. They played some older tracks, particularly "The Seed" off of Phrenology, before leaving the stage, the audience happily clamoring for more.

Energy levels were in the stratosphere& after The Roots, even though it seemed like more people had come specifically to see Gym Class Heroes perform. After a long wait, the quartet from New York started playing. They were quick to get all of the singles out of the way, starting with "Clothes Off!", which the audience members got a kick out of. Lead singer Travis McCoy got the crowd riled up with a quick discussion of registering to vote, followed by some commentary on the government, which led inevitably to the performance of "Peace Sign/Index Down".

The pervading problem was that Gym Class Heroes simply are not The Roots. They haven’t been around as long, and it shows in their live persona. Seven years is obviously a long time, though, and they were certainly comfortable, but the pacing of the set wasn’t great, and McCoy was responsible for some of the most inane, almost embarrassing-to-be-present-during banter with the crowd I have seen at a show. As a prelude to their next single, "Cupid’s Cokehold", he asked those in the crowd who were in love to raise their hands. Okay, fine. He then asked those who can remember the exact moment they fell in love to raise their hands, essentially having the same people keep their arms extended. Next, McCoy went on to ramble about his own being in love, how it’s the greatest feeling in the world, real Don Juan stuff. The crowd of course ate up "Cupid", though the actual performance seemed a little underwhelming to what they could have done. Maybe the master volume knob just needed to be nudged a little bit to the right, maybe they needed to deviate at least a little bit from the studio version of the track, but they just seemed complacent in the fact that yes, they were performing their hit that everyone wanted to hear.

It wasn’t all awful, though, not by any means. The band put on an impressive showing with "Blinded By The Sun", a medley of songs from 2004’s Papercut Chronicles. Their sound hasn’t changed too much in the ensuing years, but it was still nice to hear some songs from a little earlier on in their life as a band. McCoy did seem pretty cool on stage, save for his moment of sentimentality, and adjusted his hoodie and cap regularly while getting the crowd going in between songs. They closed with "Cookie Jar", a chilled-out R&B beat filled with sexual euphemisms about chocolate, Scooby Snacks and so on.

Overall, the show was a solid one. It would have been nicer if The Roots had just come on and played another set, but getting over seventy minutes of music from them was well worth the price of admission. Gym Class Heroes weren’t awful, but their name makes their target demographic painfully obvious, and the appeal for anyone not still concerned about their locker being in the cool hallway is hard to find.

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