I will be honest- when the line-up of ACL was released back in May, The Roots was the first name I actually became “giddy” about. I am not exactly the giddy type, but hearing that I had tickets to a festival that The Legendary Roots Crew would playing made me for the most part giddy. This set was THE set for me (see picture below). This was the “one set to rule them all” as they say in Hobbit-speak. I sacrificed the opportunity to see the Punch Brothers, Metric, and The Shins just to see (or to get a good position to see) The Roots. And all of this is kind of crazy because I have never really listened to much of their music. The only Roots records I own are Undun, Wake Up! (with John Legend), and Phrenology. At one point I had physical copies of Rising Down and Things Fall Apart, but compact discs are like pirates gold in a college dorm room, and I had plenty to spare. Whatever the reason, if it is due in part to their comedic/musical styling on Jimmy Fallon’s show or because i think ?uestlove is one the most natural/technical/gifted – drummers/producers/musicians on the planet, I had to see The Roots up close and personal.
(Photo Credit: Jordan Parnell)
My wife and I lounged through Andrew Bird (terrific set by the way) in order to get as close to the stage as possible for The Roots. When Mr. Bird ended we made the mad dash to the front and stood our ground about 20 feet from the stage. After an hour of waiting, dodging downpours, and making new friends from California, the fellas from Philly burst onto the stage with sousaphone in tow.
With all musicians on stage and the entire crowd stirred into a manic frenzy, lead vocalist Black Thought grabbed the mic, thanked the crowd, and gave a heart-felt shout-out the the late-great “MCA” of the Beastie Boys. The Roots proceeded into a rawkus cover of the Beastie Boy’s Paul Revere that got every one within ear-shot dancing. Without missing a beat or without stopping to catch their breath, The Roots seamlessly transitioned through crowd favorites like The Seed 2.0, You Got Me, and How I Got Over. They played a wide array of tunes from albums like Game Theory and Phrenology. The music never stopped once the crew stepped foot on stage and the set featured solos from just about every member of the band. My personal favorite was Captain Kirk’s guitar/scat solo, but the hand’s down- 10’s across the board crowd favorite solo performance came in the middle of the set from none other than Tuba Gooding Jr. It was actually more of “bass-tuba off ” that was out of this world, and I am sure if around 6:30 on October 13th your pictures were shaking at home, that was the reason. To make things even better, near the end of the set, The Roots decided to play a mini cover of GnR’s Sweet Child of Mine, sung by Captain Kirk. That cover was completely out of the blue and outstanding.
Overall, the set did not disappoint. With the random covers, non stop music, synchronized dance moves, tuba solos, ?uestlove’s live tweets during the show (while drumming no less), and a mid set break of Jump On It, this was by far my favorite and most spirited show of the festival. I do wish they would have slow jammed some news (C’mon Bryan Williams!), but that will have to be for another time I suppose. Well done The Roots.
GARY CLARK JR:
Honestly, I had no idea who this artist was 15 minuets before his set was to start. I call these “White Rabbit” sets. You see, as music festivals go, you plan stuff out- in this case we had planned to see NEEDTOBREATHE -and then something random catches your ear or eye and you just have to follow it. You follow the white rabbit to see where it takes you. It could be great or it could suck, either way, you still end up on top. We were on our way to the NEEDTOBREATHE stage and I heard this delightful blues jam transcend from the same stage Weezer had just played a few evenings prior. My wife was hungry and the food was that way anyway so we detoured. We followed a white rabbit of blues and grub. Once we made it to his stage, I was immediately transfixed on Austin native Gary Clark Jr. It was more than his abilities or stage presence. It was more than who people compare him to (big names like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Dan Auerbach no less). It was his raw, unadulterated emotions on stage. I thought to myself “man, this guy is really giving us a piece of himself right now”. Gary Clark Jr. was our white rabbit. And thank god I discovered this blessing of musical delight, his new album Blak & Blu is constantly spinning in my office (I will review it later).
We were set up a few hundred feet away from the stage (not ideal, but still quite enjoyable) and we did miss the first 2 songs from his set. The fact that we missed part of his show and it still be deemed as a Top 5 set says something to the quality of his craft. There is something about how he blends his vocals, lyrics, guitar tones, rhythm section, and crowd noise into this perfect space of music festival nirvana. His vocals are very much rooted in a southern blues tone but there is also a soulful R&B feel.
Most of his 9 song set was from the recently released Blak & Blu album. He played homage to his home-town with the Chuck Berry-esq Travis County and went almost Motown with the soulful Please Come Home. It really didn’t matter what he played because the crowed loved it. This was one of the biggest crowds I have seen for a 2:15 slot. Perhaps it is because he is an Austin guy, but my feeling is because Gary Clark Jr. is just that good. My favorite tune for the set was the closer Bright Lights- that solo could still be going and I would not care.
Next time we finish up the ACL business with The Civil Wars and The Avett Brothers. Plus a special appearance by Ron Swanson.