The Rolling Stone Volkswagen Rock & Roll Tailgate Party may have been indoors – in Indianapolis’ newly minted party venue Crane Bay, to be specific – but the vibe was one of easygoing revelry. Attendees sporting Brady and Manning jerseys sipped beers, munched on catered hot dogs and cupcakes, and rocked out to a fantastic afternoon of music.
Bloomington, Indiana funk quintet Main Squeeze, the winners of a contest among dozens of Indiana bands, represented the state well, with lead singer Corey Frye’s powerfully soulful vocals forming the foundation of an energetic set. They capped their performance with a pitch-perfect cover of Michael Jackson’s "P.Y.T." It was the perfect bridge between Pete Wentz’s DJ set – which featured Thriller cut "Wanna B Starting Somethin’" – and the Roots’ subsequent performance.
After the Roots’ non-stop, entertainingly choreographed set ended, it was evident that the crowd had seen not just the greatest live rap band going, but maybe the best live band, period. The eight-piece group were capping off a week in Indianapolis as the Late Night With Jimmy Fallon house band, and they brought a fiery medley that drew from the second half of their nearly 20-year career. Opening with Black Thought rhyming his way through "The Web" from last year’s well-received Undun accompanied only by drummer Questlove and tuba player Damon Bryson, the full eight-piece group soon emerged, tearing through tracks from Things Fall Apart, Phrenology, Rising Down, and How I Got Over.
Yet though Black Thought and Questlove lead the band, Sunday’s performance was clearly a showcase for the band’s virtuosic guitarist, Captain Kirk Douglas. Along with singing the hooks for "You Got Me" and "The Seed 2.0," Douglas showed off his rock chops, effortlessly segueing between Slash’s guitar lead from "Sweet Child O' Mine" and a brief nod toward Led Zeppelin’s "Immigrant Song." There were no Michael Jackson covers, but the band somehow found time to squeeze in snippets of Bo Diddley, Donna Summer, Kool & the Gang, and the Incredible Bongo Band’s "Apache," a foundational rap sample. For about an hour, the legendary Roots crew became a peerless cover band.
The party’s headlining act has a virtuosic guitarist of its own. The recently reformed Jane’s Addiction boasts Dave Navarro, one of the 90s most renowned shredders, and he didn’t disappoint on Sunday, prowling the stage like it was the heyday of the Lollapalooza Festival. Like the Roots, the band drew from the breadth of its catalog, from their most recent work back to their 1988 debut, with Perry Farrell’s ascot-enhanced crooner cool and Stephen Perkins’ double-bass drum attack fueling the Alternative Nation classics "Been Caught Stealing" and "Mountain Song."
While the Roots mostly eschewed on-stage banter, Farrell may have been taking his life into his own hands with his own style of repartee. "We are all in a macho mood today," he asserted, by way of acknowledging the football battle only hours away. Then, as the band slowly started into the jazzy "Ted, Just Admit It" behind him, and a huge LCD monitor played a loop of b-movies, old cartoons, and stag films, Farrell started trolling the significant New England contingent in the audience, telling them he hoped their team would lose, and lose badly. Of course Farrell was simply engaging in the sort of performative provocation that built punk, but it was clear that dozens of Patriots fans left Crane Bay freshly revved up for a great Super Bowl game.