Music that Gets You High
Tuesday April 9, 8:00 p.m.
Tuesday night, thousands of crazy college kids packed into the sticky-floored, smoky-aired, beer-smelling Avalon and bounced spastically to Rusted Root’s electric groove. You might have heard of Rusted Root, six amazing musicians with a mostly college fan base, who have been compared to Dave Matthews Band. Their albums, including the hit album, When I Woke, are fast, chill, and addicting. But Rusted Root in concert is a whole new experience. Suddenly the music is on another level -- it’s manic and hypnotic. The April 9 concert celebrated the release of their new album, Welcome to My Party. The band, the crowd, and the atmosphere were charged and alive, bodies-moving, complete with the smell of marijuana.
On stage was Mike Glabicki, with a sexy, thrilling voice and animated guitar, Jenn Wertz and Liz Berlin, two powerful vocalists, dressed like an Urban Outfitters ad, Jim Donovan, the drummer responsible for Rusted Root’s characteristic vibe, and Patrick Norman and John Buynek, the multi-talented guitarist and vocalist. Like any other band, the core of their music is acoustic and electric guitars, bass, and drums. Of course, they didn’t just stick with these normal, boring instruments. Throughout the concert, recorders, washboards, keyboards, flutes, banjos, marimbas, harmonicas, and several other nameless instruments were thrown into the mix. With these untamed instruments, the band played bluegrass, country, African, Indian, blues, jazz, rock, worldly, and indie music, all unique and spectacular and with the same intense beat and energy. The audience never stopped bouncing.
Glabicki and Wertz put their weighty, take-charge voices convincingly together in their amazing ballad “Blue Diamonds,” each attempting at times to drown out the other, making the song beautifully true to life. And the crowd loved it -- the usual bouncing slowed to nods and smiles of respect and wonder.
Liz Berlin showed off her voice in “Too Much,” also on the album. Her voice, like the song, was clear and carefree. Unlike Wertz’s throaty, blue-inspired croons, Liz sang melodically and simply. For most of the concert, she added drama to the songs without really calling attention to herself. She seemed to be that necessary band member who takes on the unclaimed vocal and instrumental parts, but doesn’t often get yelled for. Eventually, the crowd finally noticed, and cheered her on in “Too Much.”
Of course, each member adds a flavor, and Tuesday night, the flavors came together. I was convinced. Rusted Root fits together and rocks like no other. The percussion takes the lead and the melody follows, like partners dancing.
During “Weave,” Wertz danced and made faces at the audience while she sang the jazzy, lively song. Like a snake, she wiggled her spine and shoulders and sang, “Wiggle your backbone/Dance with me baby!” She rubbed against her charged partner, Glabicki, who joined in with her at the chorus, and they sang with their cheeks pressed together into one microphone. The music had me going and I could only laugh at their cute stage performance.
At one point, they lost the melody and played only percussion. That is the element that makes Rusted Root unique. Every member shook or beat cowbells, maracas, tambourines, cymbals, bongos, congas, or timbales. I admit, I became bored with this part, and felt it lasted too long, but the crowd continued to bounce, so maybe they didn’t agree.
The concert ended with a shattering performance of “Ecstasy,” followed by a thirty-minute encore, which was the best encore I’ve ever experienced. They sang “Happy Birthday” to their new album, Glabicki screamed “This is the happiest day of my life!” and then they played their biggest hit, “Send Me on My Way,” which seemed to make the audience high.
Rusted Root performed for and with the crowd. We were all inside the music. Glabicki and his ladies sang loudly, freely to the rhythmically wild drum beats. The sound was primal, acoustic, and aggressive. Rusted Root overwhelmed.