Rusted Root gets audience moving with unique percussive sound

Updated 12/13/2010 2:49 PM
  • Pittsburgh band Rusted Root will play a New Year's Eve show in Rosemont.

    Pittsburgh band Rusted Root will play a New Year's Eve show in Rosemont.

Michael Glabicki, lead singer and songwriter for the band Rusted Root, is glad he has such "bad short-term memory."

The band has been together for 20 years a lifetime in the rock-music world. But Glabicki said the experience still feels fresh to him.

"I don't know, there's still this innocent kind of enthusiasm about it," Glabicki said in a phone interview from his Pittsburgh-area home.

"Maybe if my memory were better" he laughs here "that wouldn't be the case. But we all still feel a lot of energy when we play together. And so far, the audience does, too."

Rusted Root, playing in Rosemont on New Year's Eve, emerged from Pittsburgh in 1990 with an unusual sound that mixed rootsy, Grateful Dead-inspired rock with African and Latin rhythms.

The band made a splash early on when its 1994 record, "When I Woke," became a hit on alternative radio, producing the single "Send Me on My Way," which has since appeared on numerous television and movie soundtracks.

The band's unique drum sound attracted much of the early attention. Glabicki said he's not exactly sure how it first became part of Rusted Root's arsenal.

"You know, it wasn't something that was calculated," he said. "I know Peter Gabriel had been doing something along those lines when we formed, but other than that you didn't hear a lot of African drumming in music. There were some people in Pittsburgh who were interested in it, and to me it seemed like a way to put a new spin on rock."

Rusted Root continued to record and tour throughout the 1990s, cultivating a devoted fan base that loved the records and Rusted Root's dynamic live attack.

As the new millennium dawned, though, the band took a break. "Stereo Rodeo," the band's 2009 record, was its first in seven years.

"We were doing different things solo records, other stuff but the band was never broken up," Glabicki said. "It was just a break for us, and I think it helped us when we got back together to record again."

"Stereo Rodeo" delivers the kind of quirky, driving rock Rusted Root fans have come to expect, all of it still anchored by the band's unique rhythms.

"Dance in the Middle," the opening track, is an infectious call for some collective booty-shakin'. More serious is the track "Bad Son," which moves forward along a wickedly funky guitar lick. Glabicki spits out angry lyrics that take aim at former President Bush: "Bad son/blood on your hands/it's time to clean up your mess."

One of the surprises on the record is a cover of Elvis Presley's classic "Suspicious Minds." The general structure of the song remains intact, but Rusted Root spices things up with irresistible Latin percussion.

"That happened because one day I just started playing the song, and the band chimed in," Glabicki said. "Then this Latin thing happened, and we knew we were on to something. We've been playing it live for a while now; the audience always goes nuts."

Rusted Root has toured fairly extensively behind "Stereo Rodeo," and it will perform later this month as part of the New Year's Eve Rock 'n' Roll Ball at Rosemont's InterContinental Chicago O'Hare hotel.

After that, Glabicki plans to put the final touches on a solo record he hopes to release in the spring, then do some more Rusted Root stuff.

"I want to keep moving forward as well as I can," he said. "The Internet has made things a lot different than when we started out. It used to be that if you were good, you'd find an audience. It's not like that anymore. There are so many bands and so much music out there. You really have to keep producing in order to stand out."