The Roots and Jim James – Prospect Park Bandshell – June 18, 2013
Let’s face it, musical collaborations rarely pan out. With too many artists pulling a song in too many directions, before you know it, you’ve got “We Are the World.” But if there’s one group that can make collaboration worthwhile, it’s the Roots. As the house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, they’ve thrown their musical superpowers behind plenty of visiting musicians, with the end result almost always turning out exceptional. So how would a collaborative “State of the Union” show in Prospect Park turn out between the Roots and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, one of the greatest, soulful voices to come out of recent history? Is the answer so obvious that asking this rhetorical question seems silly?
The show kicked off promptly at 7 p.m. with James and his backing band. Despite the early start time and lousy weather, an impressive number of umbrella-wielding fans made it there on time. His set ran through most of his debut solo album, Regions of Light and Sound of God, before closing with Monsters of Folk songs “The Right Place” and “Changing World.” The Roots followed with a formidable set of their own as the rain began to clear, starting off rather appropriately with “Table of Contents (Parts 1 & 2),” which dissolved into a cover of “Jungle Boogie.” One song often bled into another, keeping the music flowing and energy levels high, with the band using the massive stage to run from side to side, keeping the crowd’s attention. There were a few pauses to showcase some serious musicianship, with Damon “Tuba Gooding Jr.” Bryson blowing through a vicious sousaphone solo (yes, these things exist). Brooklyn’s own Captain Kirk Douglas ripped through a Pete Frampton-esque talky guitar solo on “You Got Me.”
Jim James returned to the stage when the clock struck 10, kicking off things with the 2.0 version of Monsters of Folk’s “Dear God,” which originated from the band’s appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. This was followed by a trifecta of covers: Prince’s “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man,” a superfunky rendition of Bill Withers’ “Use Me” and ending with John Lennon’s powerful “Instant Karma!” Were it not for the park’s hard stop time, the show probably could have gone on forever, as the Roots and James were certainly enjoying themselves. The best we can do for now is hope that these two musical forces meet again, some time sooner rather than later. —Dan Rickershauser