Even if you're not a fan of The Roots, you may be familiar with their drummer, Ahmir Thompson, aka Questlove, aka ?uestlove, aka Questo. He's got a big, signature 'fro and often supplements his concert dates with deejay gigs, where he spins fanciful sets featuring everything from '90s hip-hop to '80s TV themes to '70s funk. He has also drummed on great albums by Erykah Badu and D'Angelo.
During a two-month period beginning last fall, Questo filed a video diary of his experiences while touring Europe to support The Roots' Game Theory album. The tour has now hit the States, and if you saw them at the Fillmore this past week, the diaries make for an excellent little companion guide.
Normally I don't go around seeking out artist blogs or diaries because a) it's often a bunch of "Hey everybody what's going on, we just came from Amsterdam and we're really tired, will write more later, peace out," b) they lie buried someplace where I'm not going to see them unless I'm a big fan and c) oh right, I wouldn't care about them unless I'm a big fan anyway.
Well, all of the above is more or less true in the case of Questlove's diary. I'm NOT a diehard Roots fan. While searching a general music blog, I stumbled onto these videos. There is indeed plenty of "I'm really tired right now because... " The postings were sporadic. I was still waiting for a new one this month, as a matter of fact, before realizing that the European leg of the tour is done and thus, without any goodbyes or announcements, so is the vlog.
But there was still something about his tour diary that got me, and I found myself watching every single entry. Maybe it's because it's in video rather than text; maybe it's because Questlove is often filming it when he's alone in his hotel room, with the camera super up-close-and-personal; maybe it's the little smart-ass text asides superimposed over the action -- check out the way the captions mock him in this installment.
Here are a few things I learned from watching these videos:
1. The members of The Roots have an internal competition where they keep a running tally of each others' performance mistakes, which they call "fumbles."
2. Paul McCartney's "Heart of the Country" is a nice little ditty.
3. Minor celebrities can stalk other minor celebrities.
4. Video technology still hasn't adapted too well to shooting in dark nightclubs.
5. There's a difference between the dancing in a Goodie Mob video, a Jay-Z video, and those of several other hip-hop acts, and Questlove can imitate each to great effect.
For better or worse, Questo doesn't hold back. He opens up his pain at being left out of Mojo magazine's top 50 albums of the year, his attempts to scope out the Pussycat Dolls and his laundry-sorting standards. He takes you backstage, onstage, to the dressing room and to the after-show party. The effort illustrates both the upsides and the downsides of a music tour vlog expressing its fullest potential, at least as executed without a professional production crew. It's often dark, grainy and a little sophomorish. But it's also a good glimpse into both The Roots themselves, and what it's like to be on tour in a solidly famous but not mega-successful band.
Perhaps the best thing about this tour capsule is that it's completely unpolished and uncontrived -- a rarity for any public effort involving a major-label band that happens to be up for two Grammys this year. Who else would let you see himself acting like a fool, higher than a kite in Amsterdam? It wasn't pretty, but it was fun to watch. Thanks, Ahmir.