Photography by Philip Cosores
Before The Roots were the house band for Jimmy Fallon, The Roots pre-Grammys jam was (apparently) a sort of tradition. But, alas, their nightly gig in New York City has precluded them from being in Los Angeles for the days leading up to this weekend’s big event. Until, well, this year, when, as you might have noticed, The Tonight Show decided to have L.A. week just in time for the Grammys.
What seems like chance has really benefited a few hundred lucky fans who were given access to the tiny Hotel Cafe, a 165-cap 21+ Hollywood staple that has long been the spot for intimate surprise gigs from artists across genres. On the Hotel Cafe website, you’d simply see “private rental” for this week, but the truth is that The Roots have the joint, and they have come to put on a show.
As guests to the invite-only event would find out, the concept for The Roots’ Grammy jam is simple: gather a bunch of their friends over the course of four nights and put together a free-form, evolving show that puts fun over pretension, music over spectacle, and essentially makes the sometimes phony Hollywood scene about as real as possible, if only for a few nights.
On the other evenings, guests ranged from YG to Cee-Lo to Ty Dolla $ign to Kool and the Gang. But Tuesday might have been the strongest of the bunch, with a docket that included one of R&B’s resident rock stars in Miguel, rising rap duo Rae Sremmurd, Michael Jackson kin Austin Brown, former Floetry member Marsha Ambrosius, as well as Bilal and Adrian Younge. This on top of plenty of Roots jams made for a pretty incredible couple hours of entertainment.
Of course some were better than others. Rae Sremmund won the hearts of the whole room by showing up like they were the coolest teenagers you ever met, rolling through their two best known songs, “No Type” and “No Flex Zone”, and promptly being escorted outside the building because they were two damn young to be inside.
Miguel is a magnetic presence, and despite being a little loose with his trademark song “Adorn”, he was still charming and charismatic and simply a presence to behold. Questlove, the night’s sole continuous player, tried to have Miguel throw in an unrehearsed number, which didn’t quite pan out, but it was fun to see musicians keeping things loose and having legitimate fun.
This was never more apparent than when The Roots sousaphonist Damon “Tuba Gooding Jr.” Bryson accidentally stepped on the setlist and proceeded to play with it stuck to his foot. It created an elementary school toilet paper situation, where Bryson didn’t notice the stuck setlist, and bass player Mark Kelley slyly alerted the rest of the band one by one. They all giggled mid-song, communicating about the stuck setlist without stopping the jam. It was all funny to watch in the moment, but looking back, it was flat-out refreshing to see how much fun The Roots still have just clowning around. These shows, in addition to their normal Tonight Show gig, are demonstrations of musical love from one of the classiest acts in the business.
In the midst of one of the music industry’s most industry-ish weeks, The Roots were there to remind a small room what they love doing and how much fun it can be to witness.