Live: The Roots Regale The Teeming Prospect Park Masses With -- And Why Not -- "Sweet Child O' Mine"
Welcome to another preposterously well-attended Celebrate Brooklyn! fete, David Byrne-ian in its excess of humanity, thousands upon thousands packed within (and hundreds of bummed-out latecomers turned away without) the Bandshell to celebrate the end of the World Cup (great game, huh?) and the debut of Okayafrica.com. Fela!'s Sahr Ngaujah is our nominal host, while a pack of African hip-hop upstarts warms us up, featuring Brooklyn-via-Ghana MC Blitz the Ambassador and NYC-via-Sierra Leone posse Bajah + The Dry-Eyed Crew, both winsomely manic, a full horn section blasting away. And then, the legendary Roots crew, channeling their inner Axl Roses.
Yes, guitarist Captain Kirk is your MVP this evening -- one great thing about the Roots is he's one of several legitimate possibilities. They put out an actually quite excellent album, How I Got Over, just a few weeks ago, but it's too moody and contemplative for this celebratory scene, so after an opening gambit of Fela Kuti's "Sorrow, Tears and Blood" and a brief Talib Kweli interlude ("The Blast" and "Get By" and so forth), we head straight for "You Got Me," now more triumphant than melancholy, with Kirk first indulging in a bit of Peter Frampton chicanery before the song abruptly morphs into a fully committed "Sweet Child O' Mine" cover, Kirk handling the howling vox himself and bounding around the stage in full Hendrix/Funkadelic freakout mode. The crowd quite understandably freaks out as well, in an elbow-to-elbow/cheek-to-cheek sort of way.
It's impressive the way Roots shows can still surprise like this, even when the set list itself doesn't particularly surprise -- "The Seed" evolving into Curtis Mayfield's "Move on Up," Black Thought ripping into Kool G Rap's "Men at Work." Their own brand of manic-ness certainly helps: lots of goofy choreography, lots of serene ?uestlove pyrotechnics. Though the show was running behind and the (theoretical) 9 p.m. curfew seemed to cut their own set in half, they still ceded the stage for the last 15 minutes to Nice & Smooth, graciously offering the old-school duo certainly the largest crowd they've seen in quite a while, tightly packed and up for anything -- even them. Spain were today's big winners, but this was way more fun to watch.