The Roots, Ryan Dillaha, and the remaining Whitney garden parties
@ Chene Park
You know them as alt-hip-hop pioneers. Your mom knows them as Jimmy Fallon's buddies on The Tonight Show. But either way, the Roots are an electric, versatile group, one of the hardest-working bands in the business. The Philadelphians come to Chene Park on Sunday, and they're sure to play a show filled with improv, solos, and surprises.
The band's undeniable centerpiece is Questlove, drummer and co-leader (with rapper Black Thought). The engine behind the "Soulquarians" collective that made records like D'Angelo's Voodoo, Common's Like Water for Chocolate, and Erykah Badu's Mama's Gun, Quest has one of the deepest wells of musical knowledge I've ever heard of — ideas constantly swirling, bubbling with obscure influences and always thirsty for more. Pick up his book Mo' Meta Blues and you'll be taken to school on the kind of American music that traditional rock-oriented music historians often overlook.
The Roots seem to be one of the last of their kind. Everyone respects them, but nobody really imitates them. Not only is a full hip-hop "band" sort of a strange concept,but conscious hip hop with live instrumentation hasn't been in vogue for a while. That said, with D'Angelo fully returned and Common enjoying some of his highest visibility since Kanye West starting repping him, the Soulquarian sound might be making a comeback. And as far as bands go, the closest comparison to the Roots' fusion of conscious hip-hop and classic soul I can find is an up-and-coming group with seemingly limitless potential — Chicago's the Social Experiment, whose Surf recalls the old-school sound of the Roots' Wake Up! and the anything-goes experimentation of Phrenology.
The Roots are coming off one of their darkest, most to-the-point records yet, 2014's ...and then you shoot your cousin, but they never seem to get stuck in any particular zone for very long. For a band with a full-time gig on TV, they still do an almost unhealthy amount of touring, and by all accounts, the one constant is that the live show remains vibrant and dynamic. Quest, Black Thought, and the gang seem constantly hungry for more, constantly looking to add sounds to bake into their multi course meals filled with musical history. But the Roots won't just lecture you on hip-hop's past — they'll show exactly why it's still so great today.
The Roots play Chene Park on Sunday, Aug. 9 at 8 p.m.; 2600 Atwater St., Detroit 48207. Rapper and Seinfeld fan Wale opens. Tickets range from $46 to $150.
August garden parties
@ The Whitney mansion
The coolest mansion in Midtown is also one of its most underrated spots for music. Every Thursday evening in the summer, the Whitney mansion hosts an outdoor garden concert by a local band. The genres and styles change on a weekly basis, but the Motor City talent is always there. As this concert series starts to wrap up, here's a rundown of how things are finishing up in August.
On Aug. 6, the best of the best students at Rochester's School of Rock show what they've got, as the school's house band plays a set of rock standards and pop classics. I hear Jack Black will not, in fact, make an appearance, but these kids can shred better than him anyway.
Having opened for Miranda Lambert, Toby Keith, Big & Rich, and Jason Aldean and possessing a clean, modern sound, I don't know how Annabelle Road isn't more famous yet. On Aug. 13, the Detroit country band takes its friendly, catchy vibes to the Whitney. Singer Amanda Bailey shares tales of relationships beginning and ending, of love gained and lost, her vocals confident and filled with charismatic attitude as they ride the heavy guitars and dance with the group's fiddle.
Keeping with the rootsy vibe but attacking it from a different direction, Detroit's Duende delivers music that's part barnyard hoedown, part Misfits punk — like some cowboys having a bacchanal in a ghost town. Duende combines the disorienting fuzzy power of the Detroit garage rock that we all love with the aesthetics and tropes of old-school blues and country, creating beautiful, noisy, catchy chaos. I'm going to love seeing how this show plays out in a place as nice and upscale as the Whitney.
The series finale is an extra helping of grungy alt-rock, with MPV (My Pal Val) and Cheerleader both performing sets. Coming off the recent In Lust We Trust EP, MPV plays music in the vein of the Breeders, Veruca Salt, and other '90s rock outfits, with well-crafted songs and intriguing lyrics on top of the driving beats and fuzzy guitars. Meanwhile, Cheerleader (definitely not to be confused with the indie-pop group of the same name) are raw, unrestrained punks, recording simple, messy unpleasantness so defiantly and unapologetically that you can't help but love them.
The Whitney mansion is located at 4421 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Doors open at 5 p.m. and music starts at 6 p.m. $5 cover. 21 and over.
Ryan Dillaha & the Miracle Men
@ The Loving Touch
Ryan Dillaha recorded his latest album in stereo... in Mono. Hold on. This isn't some new contradictory recording technique — Dillaha and his band, the Miracle Men, just happened to record their new record (in stereo) in a converted horse barn studio in a tiny Ontario town called Mono. The result is an easygoing country-rock record titled, somewhat literally, Miracles in Mono.
Opening with "Passing Strange," a song whose catchy refrain and party-starting full-band backing make it easy to enjoy from the minute it begins, Dillaha's intentions are immediately clear — he wants to make a record that's easy to enjoy and accessible to all. Dillaha's not the type to show off, but it's clear how much he loves to make this kind of rural honky-tonk blues rock.
Miracles in Mono continues with plenty of music in the same down-home style. Like the Allman Brothers Band and other Southern-sounding rock outfits, the Miracle Men are just a band that wants to have a good time, and their music is perfect for the last stretch of summer, when you can still roll the windows down in a crowded car on a country road. If you're playing a loud and carefree song like "On Her Mind" or "Leaves of Grass," you might accidentally go a little over the speed limit.
Whatever Dillaha does to get so relaxed, I want to try it. His voice isn't traditionally spectacular, but when he sings it's so inviting, so casual, like your uncle who grabs a guitar and starts playing at a family barbecue. He's at his best on songs like "Hometown Hangovers," telling stories of drinking in bars and meeting women by the jukebox, or on "Under the Gun," when he plays the role of the wandering lone-wolf outlaw who can never stay in one place too long and breaks hearts wherever he goes. And the Miracle Men are the Wilco to his Billy Bragg, getting fantastically bluesy on songs like "Whiskey Blind" but also flexibly moving to country, rock, or more sensitive folk as needed.
What I like best about Dillaha & the Miracle Men is they don't seem to have just one ideal type of listener. Part of me wants to put them in the "Dad rock" category along with some of their influences, but that doesn't seem fair to the band's inclusive spirit. Miracles in Mono is music for men and women of all tastes and all ages — as long as they're loose and ready to have a good time.
The Miracle Men play the record release show for Miracles in Mono at the Loving Touch, 22634 Woodward Ave., Ferndale, on Saturday, Aug. 8 before embarking on a national tour. Doors open at 8 p.m.