With their last album, 2004's ``The Tipping Point," generally regarded as a disappointment and their upcoming ``Game Theory" (out Aug. 29 on new label Def Jam) expectantly raising eyebrows, the Roots may have more to prove than in the past.
Still, Monday's sold-out crowd -- freaking out upon seeing the silhouetted Afro of drummer Ahmir ``?uestlove" Thompson on the darkened Avalon stage -- suggested that the Roots have little to worry about. The group has a reputation of being the best live band in hip-hop, and ?uestlove, playing with the same impossible precision that Clyde Stubblefield and Jabo Starks brought to James Brown, is half the reason why.
But the rest of the Roots were equally as fierce, with rapper Black Thought drawing from the focused energy of a full band in songs such as ``Thought @ Work" and the new ``Here I Come." In his hands, the buoyant, catchy ``In Love With the Mic" was a simple statement of fact.
As the Roots know all too well, however, things fall apart, and the momentum was quashed by Talib Kweli, who interrupted the Roots' set instead of preceding it like the easy and loping (but deep and jazzy) opening by the Pharcyde.
Kweli delivered a fine performance. But dropping to a lone DJ and backing singers Candace Anderson and Tarrey Torae in the midst of a headlining set felt like a downshift.
Kweli picked it up with ``Get By," which snapped hard enough to hand the show back over to the Roots. But after the climactic ``You Got Me" a few songs later, with its bluesy, descending chords giving way to an extended solo for guitarist Capt. Kirk, the show seemed to go off the rails. Leaping from snippet to snippet (Gnarls Barkley's ``Crazy," ``Black Betty," ``Gold Digger," ``Shake, Rattle and Roll"), the Roots' energy was still strong, but by then, the group's focus was shattered.