It had nothing to do with the fact that Questlove was wearing a purple T-shirt and purple sneakers. It had nothing to do with the fact that the gig was in the same area code as Chanhassen.
No, the reason the Roots’ performance Sunday night at Mystic Lake Casino Showroom was so reminiscent of one of Prince’s jams at Paisley Park was because of the musicianship, chemistry, spontaneity, passion, deep repertoire, straightforward approach, enduring length and the we’re-on-fire-so-we’re-not-gonna-stop attitude.
It was a pretty epic performance.
However, it didn’t seem that way at first. In their first Twin Cities headline gig in 10 years, the Roots -- the 32-year-old Philadelphia hip-hop band best known as Jimmy Fallon’s musicians on “The Tonight Show” -- didn’t catch fire until more than half an hour into their 125-minute performance.
The turning point was a long, jam-packed medley dubbed “Hip Hop 101.” In the spirit of Prince’s soul-music salute “Musicology,” the Roots offered snippets – a chorus here, a verse there – of rap favorites, including A Tribe Called Quest’s “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo,” Black Sheep’s “The Choice Is Yours” and the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Ten Crack Commandments.”
What became clear is these musicians can turn on a dime and play together with uncommon chemistry and spontaneity. Maybe the medley is rehearsed, but the rest of the night felt like a band that was ready for anything -- like Prince at his best, whether with the Revolution, NPG or 3rdEyeGirl.
A big difference, though, is the frontman for the Roots, cofounder Black Thought, is a rapper who rarely sings. His flow can be furiously fast or soulfully slow, his words poignant, political or just party-oriented. And he's adept at freestyling.
The various instrumentalists in the 10-man collective distinguished themselves on solos, especially jazzy trumpeter David Guy, versatile bassist Mark Kelley, imaginative percussionist Frank Knuckles and guitar star Cap’n Kirk Douglas, who soared like Santana and scatted like Al Jarreau. And both Douglas and sousaphone player Damon Bryson romped around the stage with rock ‘n’ roll abandon.
(FYI: Keyboardist James Poyser, who is prominent on Fallon’s “thank you notes” segment, was not among the touring players.)
There were many highlights after "Hip-Hop 101" including “Web,” which had a reggae vibe with uptempo rhythm; Black Thought singing a funky version of Chuck Brown’s “Bustin’ Loose"; Douglas ad libbing a vocal version of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” before segueing into Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things” as a guitar instrumental that ended with him playing on his knees, and a jivey jam quoting the Blackbyrds’ “Rock Creek Park” with Black Thought improvising a localized ending: “doin’ it in the park, doin’ it after dark, at Paisley Park.”