BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
ROME, Ga. – “What is your passion, ladies and gentlemen? Just to let you know, you’re rocking with the best, and we’re passionate about excellence.”
Such was Black Thought’s opening address to the crowd gathered at CounterPoint’s second-largest stage early Sunday evening and the Philly funk masters demonstrated that passion with a few buckets of sweat and some of the tightest grooves to blast off a festival stage this year.
For a solid hour, the band, fronted by Black Thought (Tariq Trotter) but anchored by the tight snare thwacks of Questlove (Ahmir Thompson) and the searing rock guitar moves and sounds of “Captain” Kirk Douglas, kept heads nodding.
Quest, clad in a black zip-up sweatshirt (which he shed mid-set), his trademark comb poking out of his hair, bounced his head with every tick against the high hat during “Proceed” and kept his foot on the pedal as Mark Kelley unfurled a chest-rattling bass solo during “The Next Movement.”
The Roots have always been masterful at mish-mashing gliding soul with stomach-clenching funk – and somehow making a sousaphone (tuba’s cousin) work with their sound as well – but they also know how to steer a live show.
While they’ve entered a new realm of mainstream acceptance – plenty of moms and grandpas know who they are now thanks to the exposure that comes with being Jimmy Fallon’s house band – the collective hasn’t lost its raw spirit.
Douglas and brass man Damon Bryson (aka Tuba Gooding Jr.) side-stepped around the stage as Black Thought fluidly spewed the inspirational message in “The Fire”; then Kelley joined them for some pogo action during “Get Busy.”
The crowd cheered at the first familiar bass notes of Kool & The Gang’s “Jungle Boogie “ – and really, is there a better band on the planet suited to cover this song? – and The Roots tore into it hungrily.
Quest and percussionist Frank Knuckles detoured into a percussion breakdown of mirrored beats that segued into a blistering jam from the full band.
Right about that point came the realization that The Roots hadn’t stopped playing neither for a breath nor a break – for more than 30 minutes.
That steamroller approach continued into the second half of the set, as Douglas soared on the chorus of “You Got Me” and then turned on his inner rock god with a fierce medley of “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” “Bad to the Bone” and “Who Do You Love?”
The band pushed the music yet another notch with a crowd sing-along of “The Seed (2.0),” an MTV favorite in the early ‘00s and one of their few traditionally structured songs.
By the time Douglas leapt off the drum riser and Black Thought shouted out a round of “give it up for” band introductions, the crowd was almost as sapped as the band.
Black Thought wasn’t kidding about that passion.
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