Supergroup Showcase: John Legend & The Roots

THE PLAYERS: John Legend (vocals) and The Roots (everything else)
THE STORY: Inspired by his experience campaigning for Barack Obama in 2008, John Legend decided he wanted to make a record with The Roots that reflected how he felt at the time. They got together, recorded a series of covers and one original track and the results was the 2010 album Wake Up! (via Wiki).

Like a lot of posts, I’m going to kick this one off with a story from my past. It’s not too long, so don’t worry, I’ll get to the music shortly. Like a lot of colleges, my school Ohio Wesleyan University held a yearly concert on campus for the students called SpringFest. I never actually went to one because I either didn’t care or had something better to do (seeing Everclear with my buddy Jeff instead of watching The Counting Crows). But there was one year that I really wanted to attend and that was when The Roots were playing. I’d never actually listened to the funk/hip-hop group’s records at that point, but I knew of Questlove from that hilarious Chappelle Show skit with him and John Mayer and the band from my buddy Toth who’s always been a lot more tapped in than me. I was all set to buy my ticket after Easter, but on the way back to school after heading home for the weekend, I got a crazy speeding ticket. Money was tight in college and the speeding ticket completely wiped me out, so I couldn’t go to the show. Wah wah.

Fast forward to modern times. Jimmy Fallon scores Conan O’Brien’s old spot on Late Night and he makes the ingenious decision to hire The Roots as his house band. Not only did he instantly score the best band in late night, but also gave me and millions of other night owls the opportunity to become familiar with the group. After being so impressed by their chops I went out and bought one of their albums Phrenology, but it’s more of a slick hip-hop record and that’s not what I was looking for. I wanted something a little more soulful and funky. I didn’t have to wait too long because, soon enough, Jimmy was talking about a new record featuring an epic team-up of soul singer John Legend and the band called Wake Up!

I didn’t run out immediately and buy the album. In fact, it wasn’t until I saw the digital version on sale on Amazon for $5 that I bit. Man, what a fantastic use of a Lincoln. Like The Roots, I’ve long admired and appreciated John Legend from a distance either through live performances on TV shows or guest spots on other records, but I never jumped in and got one of his records. Wake Up! seems like the perfect entryway to both bands but also offers up all the soul/funk/rock/hip-hop stew that I could want from this collaboration. As far as supergroups go, these are two great tastes that taste great together, almost like they’d been playing together for years.

I even dig the fact that they went after lesser known songs to cover for the most part. I’m no soul/funk aficionado, but even I have heard “Wholy Holy.” The rest though are mysteries that feel both historical and fresh at the same time, making me want to check out the originals. It should come as no surprise that every track on the record had me bobbing my head along to the groove. Heck, it even calmed me down as I wrote this post in a coffee shop right next to a pair of teenagers who couldn’t keep their paws off of each other and kept playing with the girl’s hair RIGHT NEAR MY COFFEE. Okay, well, it didn’t calm me down too much I guess.

If you’ve never gotten into but always been curious about soul music of the 60s and 70s, The Roots or John Legend, Wake Up! is essentially the perfect mix of all three. The record can act as a gateway, but also stands as a fantastic, sometimes funky sometimes mellow but always sonically pleasingĀ  listening experience for pretty much any kind of mood. Feeling down? This record will cheer you up. Feeling good? You’ll feel even better. Seriously, the original track “Shine” is really helping to calm me down about those teenagers. They left by the way. Good thing too, or I was going to blare Husker Du in their ears. In conclusion, Wake Up! is a rad record, but it will not help you chase away teenagers who won’t stop playing with their hair. It will probably just make them want to make out, which is far worse. This ends the review as well as the cranky old man portion of the proceedings today.

Rockin’ Flicks: Almost Famous (2000)

I’m not one of those dudes who had their lives changed by Almost Famous. I was friends with some of those guys in high school and in fact saw this movie over at one of their houses in high school. One friend fell in love with Kate Hudson after seeing the flick and another would incessantly sing Stillwater’s “Fever Dog.” Both were in my band. I dug the movie when I saw it, but it didn’t become a favorite.

If you’re somehow unfamiliar with the movie, it’s basically Cameron Crowe’s fictionalized memoir of touring with various bands in the 70s, but centered around a young kid named William and the fictional band Stillwater. The high schooler gets the attention of Rolling Stone who sends him on tour with the band who he becomes friends with even though his mentor Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman) warns him against it and also falls for groupie–sorry “Band Aid”–Penny Lane, played by Hudson. It’s basically the story of a kid learning to go from fan to pro in an industry that’s showing him all its warts, no matter how much they wound him.

I actually had more fun spotting the supporting actors in the flick than watching it. I think that’s because I’ve seen and even lived this story a bit myself. Having been a comic book fan who worked in the thick of the comic book world at Wizard, I can really relate to what William goes through (minus the groupies) but comparing a film, even a great one, to my real life, the film’s not going to hold up. I get that it’s great and I love all the rock and roll stuff, because I’m a huge fan of music from that era, but it just doesn’t vibrate inside of me like it might have when I was younger.

Anyway, back to that star watching, here’s the ones I saw. You’ve got Jimmy Fallon playing the manager’s manager. I can’t remember if I knew who he was when the movie first played. The gone-too-soon Mitch Hedberg sits in on a manager poker game! Anna Paquin and Fairuza Balk (The Craft) play groupies. Jay Baruchel is a Led Zeppelin super-fan and even Nick Swardson has a moment as a wild David Bowie fan. Heck even Modern Family‘s Eric Stonestreet pops up as a hotel worker. I’m sure there’s plenty I missed. Plus, of course, one of my favorites Jason Lee plays an important part. It’s funny how similar the character is to Banky from Chasing Amy, but the guy they got to play the singing voice sounds embarrassingly like someone else. Oh, this was also the first movie I saw Zooey Deschanel in and didn’t even realize it!

I think had I bought the movie after I saw it and gave it a few more spins, I would have a lot closer relationship to it, but as it stands, I can appreciate it without falling in love with it. Though, I do adore the “Tiny Dancer” bit. Moments like that in real life are amazing and should be enjoyed both in the moment and later in life. I have incredibly fond ones of singing songs with my buddies back home and even the other week when the missus and I wound up singing “Summer Loving” from Grease, even though she had to sing most of the dude parts because I only know about half the words.

Jimmy Fallon & Ben Stiller Play Jerry Stiller & Anne Maera Play Charades

I caught Jimmy Fallon’s show last night and it was pretty great. Ben Stiller was the first guest and I just had a feeling that after talking about Little Fockers, his parents Jerry Stiller and Anne Maera showed up. And that they did! After the commercial break, they played Charades and the results were hilarious. Enjoy!

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Check Out The Craig Ferguson/Jimmy Fallon Shark Week Commercial

I’m not as big a fan of Discovery’s Shark Week as the missus (I think it hints at some desire to see mangled humans, but don’t tell her that), which means we’re watching it as we speak (well, I keep looking away cause it’s SUPER gross). Anyway, the best part so far has been a commercial featuring Jimmy Fallon calling Shark Week host Craig Ferguson, wishing that he had gotten that gig instead of hosting the Emmys. It’s pretty funny and the above image is a bit of a spoiler, but just go watch the video and have yourself a chuckle. Sorry if the image with the play button is confusing, the video’s not embeddable and all attempts at screencaps resulted in the play button’s presence.

Jamming With Whip It (2009)

Whip It’s one of those movies that seemed pretty interesting when I first heard about it (Drew Barrymore directing a roller derby movie starring Ellen Page and Kristen Wiig? sold), didn’t see it in the theaters and then took forever to actually see because it seems to be one of those flicks everyone wants to watch from Netflix so it takes forever to get. A friend of ours was waiting for a long time too. We both had the movie on the top of our queues. Last week I stopped in at Blockbuster to take advantage of their five for $25 deal and picked up My Bloody Valentine 3D (without glasses, so I ordered them), Punisher Wars Zone, (500) Days Of Summer, National Treasure 2 and Whip It. Just because it would be easier to spend the four bucks and see the damn thing.

In the end it wasn’t really worth the wait. I mean, it’s an alright movie, that does have an uplifting message at the end, but it’s pretty damn formulaic. Our heroine, Ellen Page, lies about her age to try out for the Austin roller derby teams. She makes it, her friend helps her with her lies, she meets a boy, she’s really good at roller derby and, as you would expect, everything comes crashing down on her and it looks like she won’t be able to play in the big game because, you guessed it, the beauty pageant she’s supposed to be in is the same day! Ugh. I could have outlined the movie ahead of time and had a drink every time I was right. If that were the case, I don’t think I’d be able to type right now.

It’s by no means a bad movie even though the plot is very been-there-done-that if you’ve been watching movies for a while. Barrymore does a serviceable job directing though the movie could have used some better editing. In one sequence, for example, the girls (Page and Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat) are at a party, they’re both flirting with boys, one throws up and the next thing you know they’re in a bed together in a room alone. Is it at one of their houses? Is it the house the party was in? What is happening?

From what I’ve seen in the rad documentary Hell On Wheels (which I could have sworn I wrote about on here, but must have instead explained it in great detail to someone, probably the missus) which is about the real deal Austin roller derby women who helped kick this trend back into gear, the action and the game seem pretty legit, though I’m sure there’s stuff in there that upsets the roller derby aficionados (like when us geeks watch the X-Men movies and yell at the screen for the little things).

So, no, it’s not the most original movie in the world, but I would recommend it to anyone interested in roller derby (after watching Hell On Wheels, it is on Netflix Instant last I checked), roller derby fans, people who haven’t seen too many teen movies and every teenage girl ever. Too long has this kind of movie been the territory of men (I love how proud the dad is that his girl can knock some bitches out, just as proud as the neighbor with the football kids). I’d make this mandatory viewing for girls and will show it to mine if I ever have any on Holovision or whatever the hell we’ll be watching movies on in THE FUTURE (gotta say it like an old timey cartoon or it just doesn’t work). Also, bonus points for the Star Wars names that got snuck in like Jabba The Slutt and Princess Slayah. Well played.

Betty White On Jimmy Fallon

While waiting anxiously forĀ  tonight’s Saturday Night Live with special guest host Betty White, enjoy these clips from White’s recent appearance on Jimmy Fallon. Gotta love how she’ll still play beer pong. I wonder if there’s real beer in those party cups.

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Michael J. Fox Talks Back To The Future On Jimmy Fallon

After a rad musical intro/ode to Michael J. Fox’s guitar performance in Back To The Future at the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance by The Roots (which unfortunately isn’t included in the first clip, Fox talked about a number of subjects. His new book is one of them, ribbing Dennis Leary another, but my favorite part was when he talked about how people are constantly coming up to him and asking where the real hoverboards are from Back To The Future 2. I really need to watch those movies again, it’s been way too long.

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