The Roots Picnic, a music festival curated by The Roots, returned to The Penn’s Landing Festival Pier June 2 for its fifth year. The picnic has become known for its eclectic lineups, and this year it ran the gamut from underground hip-hop (Danny Brown, Mr. Mutha—–n’ eXquire, Shabazz Palaces), old-school favorites (De La Soul, Mos Def), indie rock (St. Vincent, tUnE-yArDs), top-notch disc jockeys (James Murphy, Flosstradamus), and of course, The Roots. While there was certainly a diverse array of performers present, the festival was marked by the quality of its acts, which made for a thoroughly enjoyable day.
The day started off on a high note with excellent performances by a number of up-and-coming rappers. Shabazz Palaces, a group that records some of the most intriguing and distinct hip-hop today, managed to port over its dense sound with a combination of sampling and live instrumentation. Their songs seamlessly bled into one another to form sets broken up by coordinated dance moves that made their act one of the more memorable of the festival.
Meanwhile, Mr. Mutha—–n’ eXquire and Danny Brown eschewed subtlety for boisterousness. While neither was particularly refined, they were both highly entertaining, if not extremely crude.
TUne-yArDs and St. Vincent played back-to-back sets in my personal highlight of the festival. While they were both constrained to abbreviated sets — and St. Vincent suffered briefly from technical issues — they packed in as much music as possible. They displayed huge amounts of energy and musical prowess. TUnE-yArDs is distinct from any other band currently touring; it prominently features vocal and drum loops recorded on the fly, saxophone, and ukulele. In addition, lead singer and drum-loop creator Merrill Garbus added a visual flair to her performance with face paint and neon tassels on the shoulders of her dress. Annie Clark, lead singer and guitarist of St. Vincent, astounded the crowd with virtuosic guitar playing.
James Murphy, lead singer and songwriter of the now-defunct LCD Soundsystem, played an assortment of 70s and 80s underground dance songs during his excellent DJ set. Long before he started his highly acclaimed and successful band, he was known in the New York area for his superb DJing, and Saturday’s set proved that he had lost none of his abilities.
Finally, The Roots took the stage, proving to be amply entertaining headliners. In addition to being a remarkably tight band, they were affable and fun. They supplemented their performance with several noteworthy performers, including Wale, De La Soul, and surprise appearances from Mos Def and DJ Jazzy Jeff.
While there were without a doubt some less-than-stellar performances early in the day, they were easily overshadowed by the wealth of excellent artists on display. The Roots curated an enjoyable lineup with something for everyone — a feat hoped to be duplicated for years to come.