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Concert review: Erykah Badu, the Roots & Chuck Brown at Spirit Fest

Sun correspondent Evan Haga was at Merriweather Post Pavilion for Spirit Fest Saturday. Here are his ruminations from the show:

Chuck Brown

Like the leader of any world-class funk band, Chuck Brown knows not to neglect the groove, even for a second. The go-go beats began and they didn't quit until set's end, and in between was an interpolated regional hit parade — "Go-Go Swing" and "Bustin' Loose" cropped up, obviously — from a jazzman who is also the ambassador for one of the most singular rhythms on the planet.

The sound on the lawn was a shame, though: The District was well represented, as cries of "Wind me up, Chuck!" proved, but the mix beyond the seats was spotty and soft. I could hardly hear Brown's warm-toned, Grant Green-styled guitar lines ...

The Roots

The Roots are, according to an announcer on Saturday who shall-go-unnamed, currently working with late-night-TV host Jimmy Kimmel. Ouch. Once tireless road warriors who toured so much it was easy to take them for granted, the Roots have, since March of 2009, had a steady gig on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," making even festival dates like this one something to savor.

Black Thought is a force and, with ?uestlove and Captain Kirk Douglas — rap's resident guitar hero — the Roots bolstered their reputation as hip-hop's greatest live band. One thing felt like a missed opportunity, though I'm sure the logistics presented a challenge: Douglas sang the chorus on "You Got Me," a part famously recorded by Erykah Badu, who was slated to go on next.

Erykah Badu

Like Sly Stone before her, Badu has traded the Afro in for a bleached-blonde mohawk. It was impressive, to be sure, but not as flooring as this hour-long set, which began late but thankfully plowed through Merriweather's 11 p.m. curfew.

Badu's ace band set the table by grooving like Herbie Hancock's Headhunters circa 1974, heightening the anticipation before the empress arrived to grab the reins. She started out slow and spacey but eventually the vamps became robust and hypnotic; hits like "Love of My Life" were grand, but the real magic was off the cuff. Whether tapping out beats on a drum machine or messing around on Whodini’s "Friends" with surprise guest (and former beau) Common, her charisma was arresting.

A soul queen but also a hip-hop kid, Badu spit vintage gansta-rap lyrics in a way that was deft but also hilarious, evoking a bawdy blues singer spinning off double entendres. Somehow, the explicit lyrics didn't seem so explicit.

(Baltimore Sun photos by Colby Ware)

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