Lost on the Crowd
Rusted Root - Riviera Theatre - Chicago
December 27, 1997
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 1998, Volume 5, #3
Written by John Metzger
On December 27, Rusted Root made a last minute, year-end stop at the Riviera in Chicago in preparation for their New Year's Eve show on the East Coast. Rusted Root is one of the best opening acts around, faithfully tagging along on high profile Summer tours year after year. They never fail to disappoint in their short, but sweet sets, and it's nice to see them step out on their own tours once in awhile.
However, it's possible they've gotten a little too good at those 50-minute sets, and need to resume headlining their own tours. There's no doubt this band is good at what they do, but during this 2½ hour blast, they lost the audience on more than one occasion. The audience was clearly at this show to hear the songs from When I Woke and was fairly lost for the rest of the set.
Rusted Root kicked things off with a routine Martyr and seemed to have some difficulty settling into a vibe. In addition, the sound was horrendous. The mix was terrible, and the volume was way too low. It was next to impossible to hear much of the detail of the music.
Fortunately, the band quickly recovered with an excellent pairing of Tree and Won't Be Long. Halfway through Tree, the sound began to improve, and Michael Glabicki's guitar playing and Liz Berlin's vocals began to find their way through the mix. By the time they moved on to Won't Be Long, the band had settled into a funky groove. Unfortunately, the sound never improved enough to be able to pick out the excellent bass playing of Patrick Norman.
The trilogy of Infinite Space, Voodoo, and Dangle totally lost the audience despite the band's outstanding performance. Sensing this, the band seemed to abbreviate and shorten the songs in order to recapture the audience's attention. Unfortunately, my attention began to wane as songs like Rain and Lost in a Crowd, while pleasing the audience, seemed to be tossed off rather perfunctorily. The band even seemed somewhat bored with Virtual Reality until switching mid-stream into an impromptu cover of Little Richard's Tutti Frutti. After a brief discussion, Glabicki gave up on the lyrics, but Norman stepped up to the microphone and delivered them with ease.
As in previous shows, Cruel Sun was the absolute highlight. This is the band's best song and is what caught my attention the first time I saw them. This version was long and jammed out with beautiful rhythms and harmonies. Guitar merged with flute as the song ventured out on a tribal drum beat — soaring, dodging, drifting, and dreaming. A rousing Send Me on My Way capped off the set, as the band pooled their energy into a massive rhythmic assault.
The group returned for a lengthy encore, beginning with an audience sing-along of Back to the Earth. While it didn't reach the pinnacle of the version performed at the New World Music Theatre this past Summer, it was a solid version with soaring vocals and a driving beat. Jim Donovan kept finding more and more energy, as he pounded his drums and moved the song further and further into a deliberate groove that increased in tempo as the song progressed.
Laugh as the Sun was haunting as the sound seemed to swirl with every chant of Ha! Ha! Ha! the band delivered. The show concluded with a drum and percussion interlude that led to the obligatory, though sparklingly energetic Ecstasy. This left the audience thoroughly pleased and sent us all off to dance our way home.
Perhaps the band had been saving some energy for New Year's Eve, or perhaps the band had been conserving energy for the conclusion of the evening. Whatever it was, the band managed to put everything into the final hour of the evening, returning them to the fine form they so often are in during their Summer excursions.
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