Friday’s show at Knuckleheads was billed as a CD-release party for “The Movement,” the brand-new recording by Rusted Root.
The band from Pittsburgh was selling copies of “The Movement” at its merchandise table, and it featured some of the recording’s songs in its two-hour show. But let’s face it: With sales of recorded music being what they are, the real point of most live shows is to sell tickets and some merch -– whether its CDs, posters or T-shirts -– and then move on to the next town and do the same.
There was a time when Rusted Root played big auditoriums, such as Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kan., where it performed in the mid-1990s, or opened amphitheater shows for megastars like Jewel, which it did at Sandstone Amphitheatre in the late 1990s. These days, it’s not averse to playing smaller clubs, like Knuckleheads, another sign of the times: No matter how big you used to be, sometimes no gig is too small, no club is too modest.
Knuckleheads turned out to be a perfect venue for this show. Except for a few temporary issues, the sound overall was good. And by the time the show was heading toward its finish, about 50 people had filled the floor in front of the stage and were dancing to the band’s demonstrative grooves.
At times Rusted Root sounds too obviously like the Talking Heads in their world-beat days(“Nothing But Flowers” would be the primary template). At times it sounds like a Midwestern rock band, at times like your standard jam band. Other times, especially when lead man Michael Glabicki and his sidekick Liz Berlin are locked in a groove and some tight harmonies, they can kick up a vibe that faintly recalls Arcade Fire. In other words, their sound and references bounce about the music map.
The set list included a few of those new songs, such as “Up and All Around,” “Fossil Man,” “Cover Me Up” and the title track, which became an epic encore. It also included a cover of “Suspicious Minds” and the band’s mash-up of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” with its own “Cat Turned Blue” and a few measures of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” (they favored the Jimi Hendrix version).
Other songs on the setlist included “Lost In A Crowd,” “Back to the Earth,” “Food and Creative Love” and “Send Me On The Way,” which aroused one of the biggest crowd outbursts of the set. The set included several long instrumental jams, including one in which drummer Preach Freedom drummed, tapped and pounded on the many surfaces around him, including the ceiling joists above him and the strings on Patrick Norman’s five-string bass.
They ended with “Ecstasy,” which lived up to its name. Like several of the songs that preceded it, this one rode an irresistibly funky groove, one that had the dance floor percolating from the start, then overboiled into a frenzied collision of rhythm, guitar solos (from Glabicki and Dirk Miller) and high-volume vocals with harmonies. As it ended, the crowd had worked itself into a frenzy, “The Movement” had also lived up to its name and the band had fulfilled its mission: It played to this packed room in the East Bottoms of Kansas City as if it had been an amphitheater, and that was the real reason to celebrate.