February 20, 2014
I remember once reading a review of Rusted Root that bewailed the band’s association with fraternity parties and college ignorance. I was first exposed to the group at Hamilton, and on first hearing them, I found their blend of world sounds and rock-and-roll to be genuine and fun. Their association with fraternities and college parties didn’t seem to coalesce with the sound they projected.
When I imagine a college party, I hear the Pitbull and Ke$ha’s “Timber” for the transcendent trance of Avicii. I had always struggled to reconcile the image of them as the quintessential college rock band with their actual sound.
However, after their performance last Thursday night, I could see how Rusted Root provides the kind of atmosphere and personality that might accompany a “rager” on the Eels porch back in 1994.
Rusted Root approached the performance with a casual confidence that I found endearing. Their unapologetic use of cover songs told the audience, (or at least me), that they were here to provide music that we could all get behind, sing along to and recognize. Although they played newer material, I never got the feeling that they were trying to escape their more famous past and completely erase the memory of the old Rusted Root. They gave us the classic song, “Send Me On My Way,” which 90 percent of the people came for, and even turned it into a 10-plus minute jam session that folded over on itself even as it varied from the original structure. They embraced that song, despite its stigma as a one-hit wonder, while reminding us that they are still active recording artists.
Rusted Root struck me as a band comfortable in their simple positions as musicians. They aren’t here to change your world (although it’s nice if they do), but rather to provide the right atmosphere for kids who just want to dance or sit and enjoy the music. The social space reflected this, with a sea of chairs and tables set up in the fashion of a more traditional acoustic coffeehouse, and the other, more mobile sea of people flailing and gesticulating to the smooth, coordinated rhythms of the band, which clearly has been playing together for a long time.
At one point during “Send Me On My Way,” a student found himself surfing the crowd. It was a particularly long and gnarly ride. As amused as I was, Michael Glabicki was less taken with the gesture and remarked that he did not want to see it happen again. It was a curious moment, and one that made me reflect on the things this guy has probably seen at his shows. Perhaps he wanted more of us sitting in the empty chairs, but Hamilton wouldn’t hear of it. At the end of the day, considering his half-hour long encore, I think he also recognized deep down that people just feel happy when they hear his music. And surely that’s something to crowd surf about.