I have always, always said that timpanis don’t get enough play in popular music, especially in live settings. I suppose that’s at least partly because they’re really expensive and a pain to transport, so you kind of have to be Mos Def or someone to pull it off.
One fun note about timpanis for those of you who haven’t spent way too many hours futzing around school band rooms: They are equipped with pedals on the bottom that adjust the tension of the drum head, changing the pitch. So if you do a roll on the timpani while slowly moving the pedal down with your foot, the pitch glides up like a glissando on the trombone.
I’m pretty sure a few modern composers actually call for the technique, but it’s strictly forbidden by angry band directors everywhere, especially when you’re not a percussionist and shouldn’t be anywhere near the expensive timpanis to begin with.
In a related story, New Orleans-based funk drummer Stanton Moore attaches a rubber hose to a tom-tom and blows air into it to create the same pitch-bending effect in drum solos. It’s awesome.