CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia If there's one thing Dave Matthews did for certain at his band's sold-out tour opener Saturday night, it was send a clear message to 50,000 hometown fans that he was grateful for their support early on when the group was the house band at local club Trax, for coming to the show, for continuing to listen to the band's music.
"Thank you. Thank you everybody for coming out this evening. It sure is nice to be home," a bearded Matthews said at the start of the show. It was the first of many expressions of gratitude that would come during the two-and-a-half-hour concert, as what started as a dreary, rainy day turned into a clear, humid spring night.
The abundance of Abercrombie & Fitch cologne seeped off the teen and 20-something crowd and stuck to the moist air while the five-man band took to the stage at the University of Virginia's outdoor football arena, Scott Stadium.
The sun fell below the horizon, and the band started its show following a 45-minute opening set by Neil Young and Crazy Horse, who played electric versions of such Young classics as "Cinnamon Girl," "Rockin' in the Free World" and "Cortez the Killer." Matthews admitted the order was a little strange, calling Young a "huge influence on my life."
Moments after the house lights went down on the sea of baseball caps, khaki shorts and spaghetti-strap tops, the stage lights came up and the ever-casual Matthews, wearing a black V-neck button-down and khaki pants, stood center-stage, acoustic guitar in hand.
"How's everybody doin'?" Matthews asked. As the crowd roared back at him, he added, "This is a nice night to be outside, I suppose."
With that, the band began with an old favorite, "Two Step," off the band's heralded 1996 album, Crash. Fiddle player Boyd Tinsley whose open-chested button-down shirt exposed pecs the size of coconut halves and Matthews stood face-to-face, playing off each other's moves and music. More familiar songs followed, including "So Much to Say," "What Would You Say" and "Too Much," from Crash and 1994's Under the Table and Dreaming.
"I Did It" and the title song from the band's new album, Everyday, were infused with the soothing sounds of three female backup singers who came onstage midshow. The women sang along with other new songs, such as Everyday's "When the World Ends."
The new material, some of which breaks tradition by featuring Matthews playing electric guitar, was met with mixed reviews from concert-goers.
"It doesn't bother me that much I appreciate the new album. I like that they're turning more pop," said Bret Stein, 20, a sophomore at Cornell University.
"This was the worst show I've ever seen," said 24-year-old Brandy Martin of Herndon, Virginia, who said she and her friends spent more than $1,000 getting to the concert.
Martin said she thought the show was going to be good when the band opened with "Two Step," but that she was quickly disappointed when she heard the newer music. "It felt too orchestrated," she said.
The band did make an effort to play songs that took the crowd back where it all began. Tinsley performed his song "True Reflections," which seemed like an effort to reach locals like Charlottesville residents Nick Sylva and his wife, Diane, who used to live next door to Tinsley. They remember him playing "True Reflections" in local Charlottesville clubs such as Miller's and Trax in the early '90s.
Untrue to the form of those times, however, many of the group's legendary jams were shortened and most songs were kept about three minutes long. Adding to the pace of the show were two large screens showing the band onstage, with quick cuts from one member to the other making the concert a very visual experience and seeming to speed up some slow songs.
The show's highlight came when Young joined Matthews for one of the band's staples, Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," which sent the crowd over the edge with screams. The two singers alternated vocals in an energetic version of the song, though it fizzled out toward the end.
The crowd's enthusiasm, whether from the music or from the sheer joy of seeing the Dave Matthews Band in its home town again, never faded. The band exited the stage after "Ants Marching," then returned for an encore of "If I Had It All," off Everyday, before concluding with "Stay (Wasting Time)."
"I was afraid of this gig," Matthews said at the end of the show. "But y'all have made it real special."
And then, of course, just before exiting the stage, Matthews said, "Thank you so much."
For a full-length interview with the group, check out "Dave Matthews Band: Road Rulers".