The Roots and Antibalas, live at the Roxy, January 29, 2009
VIDEO: Highlights from The Red Bull Sound Clash
Not until entering the Roxy a week ago Thursday did I comprehend what a normal kid feels the first time he sees a big-league ballpark. Between the promise of a Roots-versus-Antibalas showdown and the luminescent backdrop, I found my field of dreams.
There was spectacular energy rushing through the club — no doubt the product of history-in-the-making times the fact that nary a paw wasn't clutching some variety of Red Bull. (This was the "Red Bull Sound Clash," after all.) Even before the two bands took opposing stages, the dance floor looked like hot people soup.
Sound Clash host Akrobatik introduced the evening as "the ultimate musical conversation." The format: two bands, four rounds, and a world-renowned home-town DJ — Kon — mediating from the middle.
The Roots emerged for their 15-minute warm-up with hands clapping and Tuba Gooding Jr. spooning horn sauce on the crowd. On their turn, Antibalas showcased their æsthetic aptitude and ability to melt sounds. Round One ripped, with the bands taking turns covering a range of party pleasers that included the themes from The Jeffersons and Cheers. For Round Two, each band got a chance to make their own multi-rhythmic masterstroke from some of their opponents' staple cuts.
In Round Three, they had to play their own songs in styles designated by Kon. (The Roots murdered a swing/gospel/vaudevillian twist on "The Next Movement.") And for Round Four — dubbed "The Wild Card" — Antibalas pulled Philly DJ/spoken word talent Rich Medina out from backstage and the Roots smoked "You Got Me" before summoning Grammy-studded jazz saxophonist Gary Bartz to join them for a spectacular rendition of "Celestial Blues."
In the end — after the outfits had teamed up for a Fela Kuti orgy — Antibalas fans claimed victory and Roots diehards suggested that the Afrobeat-niks should have never stepped. But in a collective moment of sheer cornball bliss, I think everybody realized that the true winners were those of us who broke our backs and sacks dancing, nodding, and ejaculating all through this one-time-only Sound Clash.
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