Live: The Roots Regale The Teeming Prospect Park Masses With — And Why Not — “Sweet Child O’ Mine”


The Roots and friends
Prospect Park Bandshell
Sunday, July 11

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 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.