Last Friday, The Roots wrapped their Tonight Show taping duties in New York, flew cross-country to Las Vegas, played three shows in three nights here and flew back to rejoin Jimmy Fallon on the set on Monday. The occasion to merit that grinder of a schedule? Brooklyn Bowl’s grand-opening weekend at the Linq.
The veteran hip-hop band’s relationship with the venue runs deep—drummer Questlove, who DJ’d here after Saturday’s show, even has a weekly “Bowl Train” DJ residency at the New York version—and the band acknowledged owner Peter Shapiro several times from the stage. The Roots also turned in performances befitting the notable circumstances, on their own Friday night and as the band behind Elvis Costello on Sunday.
Coming in, the smart money had The Roots’ solo show being the hotter of the two, with the group free to funk it up on whatever material felt right in the moment. The set’s first third held to that storyline, with rapper Black Thought and seven instrumentalists (later joined by a three-piece horn section) delving heavily into ’90s material like “The Next Movement,” “What They Do” and “Proceed.” But a strangely assembled sound mix (how could a sousaphone be that quiet?!) and an over-reliance on cover tunes (“Jungle Boogie,” “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” “Bad to the Bone”) kept Night 1 from achieving maximum momentum.
Forty-eight hours later, The Roots morphed from soulful jam band to jazzy backing unit, supporting the 59-year-old Costello, with whom they collaborated on last year’s Wise Up Ghost. Music from that album was featured heavily, most notably a hypnotic version of the title track, but the show also featured a small cache of Costello classics, from faithfully presented versions of “Watching the Detectives,” “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” and “Allison” to a surreally slowed down “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.” The spectacled Brit showed off the sterling condition of his voice during a set-capping “I Want You,” dug deeper into his catalog for early-’80s cuts “Shabby Doll” and “Pills and Soap” and rocked out a surprising encore rendition of John Lennon’s “I Found Out.”
And then, as Costello spat the well-known lyrics to “Pump It Up,” Questlove added a few new ones of his own, about needing to head off to catch a plane. Even as we cheered for more, it was pretty tough to blame him.
Note: An astute reader points out that Costello did not play "Pills and Soap," per se, Sunday night, but rather "Stick Out Your Tongue" from Wise Up Ghost, which features nearly all of the words to "Pills and Soap," among other lyrics..