With not a turn table, DAT, or laptop in sight, the Legendary Roots Crew lit up the Fox Theatre in a fiery deliver of their trademark live show.
At the front of the stage was the group's MC, Black Thought, decked out in his Yankees cap, classic aviator sunglasses, and unshakable swagger. The frontman rocked the mic relentlessly, attacking the air with his hands and the mic cord as much as with his lyrics.
While Black Thought took the literal spotlight on stage, the group's big sound left no doubt about the contributions of other performers.
Featuring no less than two percussionists, a keyboardist, a guitarist, and, yes, even a sousaphone player, the Roots gave simple proof to the fact of their peerless dynamics.
As always, one of the highlights of the set was a series of extended instrumental solos, further reinforcing the supreme musicianship of the group.
Captain Kirk Douglas channeling Hendrix. Owen Biddle thumping fat tones from the bass. Frankie Knuckles killing the congos. Damon “Tuba Gooding, Jr.” Bryson treating his ‘phone like a projectile weapon, blasting the low notes.
Last but not least, ?uestlove laid down the band's heartbeat, crushing the drums with love and freight train steadiness. Throughout the 45-minute set, the iconic drummer provided the perfect foil to Black Thought's kinetic attack, laying down his signature beat, mixing laconic precision with virtuosic flourish.
As a treat for the audience, the ?uestlove was positioned nearly at the front of the stage house right, rather than at the back, putting him in line with the rest of the band. Considering the musical democracy displayed in their solos, this placement couldn't have been more fitting.
The Roots are touring with Erykah Badu in support of their 2008 release, Rising Down.
Having photographed the Roots just a month previous, I was eager to take another crack at the group. Their performance at the Fox Theatre presented a distinctly different experience that posed a few new challenges, particularly with mobility.
Unlike the last show, which featured a barricade the length of the stage for unrestricted movement, access points to the stage were limited at the Fox due to seating right up to the front of the stage.
I shot primarily from a small gap in between the first row and the stage, mostly from a crouched position as not to obstruct the view of the audience. With a relatively low stage in the seating-only venue, being as inconspicuous was a priority.
One of the best aspects of this show as the position of the Roots' drummer, ?uestlove, who was sitting about two meters from the edge of the stage, rather than at the back. This more forward position provided some great opportunities.
Instead of the conventional three song limit, the alloted time for this shoot was only two songs.
This set featured a spotlight trained on Black Thought, just like the Roots' April performance. However, compared to that smaller, more intimate concert, the big hall of the Fox Theatre presented a distinctly more stark treatment, with more spare effects and an overall more thin atmosphere.
The majority of the effects lighting for this set came from two arrays on either side of the stage, which featured four main spots and two lights with gobos.
As luck would have it, ?uestlove was positioned nearly in front of the right array, and it wasn't too much of a stretch to line up his iconic ‘fro for on-demand rimlighting, effectively eclipsing the light.
Red accent lighting dominated the first song, giving way to white and blue background effects during the second song. Interestingly enough, while the lighting effects were less impressive, the show still had a pretty epic feel from my brief spot at the front of the stage.
Lenses & Gear:
I used the Nikon D3 and my trio of go-to zooms: the Nikon 14-24mm, Nikon 24-70mm, and Nikon 70-200mm. Of these lenses, they all received a pretty even representation in the final set. If pressed, I could have easily done with just the 24-70mm and 70-200mm.
Exposure & Metering:
Thanks to the spotlight, I kept the exposure for this set locked around 1/500, f/2.8, and ISO 1600. There were some slight variations to the shutter speed, but these were kept to a 1/3-stop.
More and more, I've been dialing in ISO 1600 on the D3, simply because it's so incredibly nice. Noise is low while details are crisp, thanks to no extraneous noise reduction on the file.
I shook Black Thought's hand. Twice. Waiting backstage in my downtime, I happened to catch the MC before and after the Roots' performance. The second time, Black Thought thanked me for looking out. Not to geek out, but it was kind of cool.
People often think that the life of a concert photographer is really a glamorous affair, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Most of the time I'll settle for the best seat in the house for a few songs, but shaking hands with hip hop royalty isn't bad, either.
My Camera DSLR and Lenses for Concert Photography
Nikon Z 7: I use two Nikon Z 7 for my live music photography. A true do-it-all mirrorless camera with amazing AF, great speed and fantastic resolution.
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8S: The 24-70mm is my go-to lens. The range is ideal for stage front photography and the image quality is superb.
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