The Roots perform hits new and old

Lights flashed and the crowd cheered as Nouveau Riche took the stage opening for The Roots Thursday night on the CFA lawn. The show, hosted by AB Concerts, was free to Carnegie Mellon students — and everyone else who happened to show up. Undeniably, the crowd was composed of fewer Carnegie Mellon students than residents of Pittsburgh, but the large number of people (more than twice as many showed up than for the Spoon concert last year) made the atmosphere much more social.

The social atmosphere was as much a result of the warm weather as it was of the diverse crowd. People showed up with their small children, while high school students crowded the front of the stage. Swarms of listeners amassed themselves on the Cut, and the procession didn’t cease throughout the show. But it’s no surprise: The Roots’ reach not only has breadth, attracting people from different walks of life, but also longevity. The band started in 1993, making the age disparity at the concert seem commonplace.

Nouveau Riche came on to warm up the crowd, accomplishing that goal and not much else. The music seemed to drift off into the ether, not even reaching the ears of the crowd in front of them. The band doesn’t have any one style or genre, and it shows in its music — a well-blended mix of hip-hop and rock, with a pinch of pop thrown in. Lead singer Nikki Jean put her voice to the test, and came back victorious. Her vocals were sweet sounding but turned deep and smoldering at the drop of a hat, evidenced by the show. Dice Raw, who does the group’s male vocals and helped found the band, has also worked with The Roots in the past, making appearances on a handful of tracks as an MC. But the band — from Philadelphia, just like The Roots — wasn’t really what everyone had assembled for. As the opener exited the stage, members of the crowd were left feeling like they had seen a great show, though not exactly sure they had heard anything.

Between sets, recorded music emanated from the speakers, but did nothing to prevent the crowd from getting overanxious and rowdy, which it did, mostly because it took a long time for the stage to be set for The Roots. When the band did take the stage, the crowd erupted in cheers, seemingly resuscitated.

And with band member monikers like Questlove, Captain Kirk Douglas, and F. Knuckles, what’s not to like? Their music is hip-hop, jazz, and rap, and the group uses elements of all in its songs.

Still, The Roots’ performance fell victim to the background effect. The music failed to hold the crowd’s attention, and ended up becoming secondary to the atmosphere. Disappointing as it was for the performance to be relegated to background music, it was still really good background music. The Legendary Roots Crew remixed and performed Talib Kweli’s “Get By,” making the song recognizable, but giving it the band’s own spin. Kweli has collaborated with the group in the past, working on two tracks on 2002’s Phrenology, and performed on Carnegie Mellon’s campus in the fall of 2005.

The band played “The Seed (2.0),” a song off Phrenology, along with a few songs from its upcoming 10th album, Rising Down, as well as various other covers that the group performed in a sort of medley throughout the concert. “The Seed (2.0)” is one of The Roots’ bigger singles, and the group performed it to a T. Something about the song just screams summer in the city (Pittsburgh in this case). It’s unbearably catchy and upbeat, and the crowd could feel it. Listeners cheered as the band played on, and fumes of alcohol and marijuana drifted through the air. In the back of the crowd, dogs caught Frisbees and people danced to their hearts’ content.

Despite the distractions of booze and warm weather, Nouveau Riche and The Roots put on an energetic show and made the people who showed up appreciate the live performance.