A far more successful formula came from popular Scottish singer-songwriter Emeli Sande, who strutted out with the volume up and fronted a much harder edge than her radio-friendly Brit-pop catalogue might suggest. The show of strength inspired many variously aged groups of women to make a noticeable push forward and dance at the front of the stage in apparent sisterhood during hits like "It Hurts," "Heaven" and "Free." Sande brought along a large backup band that matched her big vocals, with singers Adeola Shyllon and Subrina McCalla, Kenji Fenton on sax, Mike Davis on trumpet, Paul Burton on trombone, Dale Davis on bass, Nathan Allen on drums, Junior Alli-Balogun on percussion and Xantone Fayeton-Blaca on keys. Sande has garnished a slew of British accolades in recent years. This show demonstrated why.
Judging from an overflow crowd that looked to be more than 15,000 strong, The Roots
were one of the weekend's most popular acts. The Philadelphia crew gained widespread mainstream recognition as the house band for Jimmy Kimmel Live but by then they had already built a sterling reputation through word of mouth concert reaction.
They opened with an extended jam based around War's 1970s AM radio staple "Me and Baby Brother," adding a typical mix of nuggets or hinting at riffs from a pleasantly surprising stew of both street dancing and political action. Every band member is a jamming grandmaster at teasing tip of the tongue pop tidbits then switching gears into multiple grooves. A "Sweet Child O' Mine" refrain morphed into a cheerful sing-along with "Hootchie Cootchie Man" overtures.
Founding members, vocalist Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter and drummer Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson led the way while Damon "Tuba Gooding" Bryson, bassist Mark Kelly and guitarist "Captain" Kirk Douglas proved they were all-stars themselves. Douglas might have wielded his six string best of all in a wide-ranging weekend of unparalleled axmen. "UNIverse @ War" showed that commercial success has not diluted Black Thought's freestyle potency.
There were special guests like Cory Henry
and Gary Clark, Jr. The singer Bilal testified in the soulful "It Ain't Fair," a powerful, unfortunately accurate present-day US anthem. His emotional phrasing at the ballad's climax was one of the very top vocals of the night, and the song itself was a sure contender for best single performance of the festival. A small, unidentified horn section deserved recognition in the program guide.
You don't have to look any further for a definition of good time music or consummate showmanship than the set by Niles Rogers and Chic. Rogers set the mile-high standard by appearing alone on stage ten minutes before scheduled start time, for a "fake" sound check. "I know this is super unprofessional," said Rogers as he strummed his guitar. It was actually quite the opposite, considering how poor the overall sound can be during the beginning of many festival sets.
This was a highly polished show, about as brilliant as they come; with a great video background that evolved from '70s pop graphics to hologram type imagery. There was more than enough solid bass slapping by Jerry Barnes and leads from the horn duo (Bill Holloman, sax and Curt Ramm, trumpet) to qualify as a jazzy gig. A run of "I'm Coming Out" "Upside Down" "Greatest Dancer" included back to back to back peaks that probably match up well with anybody touring.
Throw in "Everybody Dance" and "Let's Dance," and there was no chance of missing the message. Almost the entire crowd responded accordingly, as Rogers joked during a singalong, "You better get it right, there's only one word." Even the dated hit "Like a Virgin" was well executed, no pun intended. It's hard to legitimately maintain the mass momentum to keep a huge crowd actively animated throughout a show, and few acts are capable of it. Chic, for the most part, did it from start to finish.
Rogers offered an often repeated narrative about his feelings as a cancer survivor that was sincere enough to make even more of a connection to the audience. "It's a family affair, with all of you, in an auditorium called Nile?" he reflected with a personalized touch before "Get Lucky." Those who saw this exceptional show were pretty lucky too. The band (Folami Ankoanda Thomson and Kimberly Davis on vocals Russell Graham and Richard Hilton on keys, Ralph Rolle on drums) deserved every bit of the massive reception they received. It was one of the rare times happy strangers could be tightly squeezed, then squeezed some more, among many thousands of their peers and still feel great about it. Watching the pulsing parade of people who danced their way in to the fully packed hall during "We Are Family," you could see there was still high hope for humanity.