As a DJ, ?uestlove is perplexing.
You hear good music when he spins, but the way you hear it sometimes disconnects you from the musical juice you seek to sip when immersing yourself in the sounds being spun.
DJ Starting From Scratch set the tone quite efficiently, giving more space for each song to unfold than usual, but still keeping the pulse of the party elevated. The third floor glass room was the scene where ?uesto's mushroom cloud afro appeared right before midnight, the look on his face communicating a desire to do brisk boogie business. He confidently stepped up to the decks to meet a crowd of cheers and flashing paparazzi camera lights, and proceeded to... meander his way to nirvana, and manipulate moments of paradise with his trademark complex creativity. Extending obscure breaks like the outro to Main Source's Lookin' At The Front Door and rare James Brown breaks wasn't exactly the intro one expected to hear at Circa to spark the party with a blast. Why not just drop Jay-Z's PSA? Maybe at a grimier spot his chosen method would have worked, but there was a mild disconnect between ?uesto's almost excessive educational turntablism and the crowd's desire to hear jam style party music on a funky Friday night.
The Roots' drummer did play some new Pharrell song that sounded like Drop It Like Its Hot with double the snappy snarework, but the schizophrenic transitions of his decisions caused enough imbalance to make me leave before I wanted to. He's either a good celebrity DJ, or a novice-yet-ambitious party rocker. But you can tell that his heart is in it. The problem is, his calculating Roots ethos-inspired mind is too much in the mix, too.
Case in point: The Playlist. If you can find the six degress of separation between most of these records, you possess a level of brilliance that I can't fathom. And just because the artists might be affiliated with each other, doesn't mean the subsequent record's tempos are anywhere near each other, do not forget. Observe:
Dr. Dre - Express Yourself
Black Moon's - How Many MCs break
Biz Markie - Just A Friend
Beastie Boys - Paul Revere
Kanye West - Flashing Lights
Nas - They Shootin'
Talib Kweli - Hot Thang
Ray Charles/Kanye West - Gold Digger
Kanye West - Get By
Beastie Boys - So Whatcha Want
Black Rob - Whoa!
Juelz Santana - Hey Ma
D.O.C. - Funky Enough
Brand Nubian - Slow Down
Domino - Getto Jam
KRS-One - MCs Act Like They Don't Know
Arrested Development - Everyday People
Snoop Doggy Dogg- Doggy Doggy World
Geto Boys - Mind Playing Tricks On Me
Naughty By Nature - Hip Hop Hooray
Busta Rhymes - Woo-hah! Got You All In Check
Dr. Dre/Rakim - Addictive
Beyonce Deja Vu
Amerie's - 1 Thing original break
A Tribe Called Quest - Award Tour
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five - The Message
Juvenile - Back That Ass Up
Phil Collins - In The Air Tonight
Lil Mama - Lip Gloss
Rakim - Paid In Full
TLC - Creep
At this point, you can see how my head had to retreat to the soothing sanity of silence. There was potential for it to be a party like few others, but it was not fully manifested that night. And sure, there are parts of that where it might look like they would blend, but in ?uest's hands, some (admittedly ill) chopping and screwing (aka vocal pitch-shifting), selectah rewinding and edit transforming made the set come off... as abstractly entertaining and mildly frustrating. As much any regular Roots concert experience can be, which is par for the course, I suppose. But, like most of the people dancing disjointedly but contently over the course of the night, it was still good to be there.