CINCINNATI — Imagine Phish coming out and playing nothing but
five-minute pop songs. Kinda blows the whole idea of a “jam band,” right?
Now, imagine if they did that and their audience didn’t pelt them with eggs,
but ate it up like it was the ultimate jam.
That’s what Dave Matthews’ fans did Thursday night at his band’s sold-out
show at Riverbend Music Center. In a nearly three-hour set, the Matthews
Band dispensed, for the most part, with the long, multi-solo jams upon which
its reputation was built and stuck to the more pop-oriented, concise
arrangements found on the new Busted Stuff and its predecessor, Everyday. Pop for the DMB, that is, which meant songs averaging five to eight minutes in length.
From the raucous applause the 18,000-plus fans rained down on the Virginia
band, you’d have thought every song was as expansive as the night’s opener,
Sounding like an orchestra tuning up, the group’s members each eased into the
lazy, jazzy groove as it picked up volume with violinist Boyd Tinsley
stepping up to take the first, Cajun-spiced, solo of the night. Though the
13-minute opener featured a thrilling drum and saxophone duel between Carter
Beauford and too-cool horn man LeRoi Moore, the extended jam was one of only
two long rambles by the band during the show — the other not coming
until the nearly 20-minute set-closer.
In between, fans got the nimble funk folk of “What Would You Say,” the
slightly menacing, indolent drawl of Everyday‘s “When the World Ends” and
the ’50s-doo-wop-meets-skronky-jazz of “The Stone.” The latter featured the
patented interplay between Tinsley — grinding away at his violin as if
joyfully sawing logs — and Beauford, whose slightly off-kilter beats were
always just a step or two behind or in-between Matthews’ vocals.
Even new songs such as the single “Grey Street” were treated by the crowd with the same enthusiasm as such classics
as “Dancing Nancies.” In fact, some of the loudest applause of the night was
for the title track from Everday, an album many fans rejected because
of its too-clean pop sheen. As Tinsley pumped out a funky wah-wah violin
solo, the crowd erupted for the breezy pop soul tune, accented
by Matthews’ signature falsetto crooning and his acrobatic, emotive eyebrows,
which got more action than the Rock’s over the course of the evening.
Hopping between their jazz and pop sides most of the night, the group also
paid homage to Matthews’ South African heritage with the bouncy, township
jive beats of the unreleased song “Loving Wings.”
While Matthews kept his emotions in check for most of the evening — he even
refrained from his usual knock-kneed dancing in place — the singer got
visibly worked up during a nearly 10-minute version of “Bartender.” Mixing
Tinsley’s droning violin with a martial rhythm from Beauford and a walloping
bass thump from Stefan Lessard, the song picked up steam as Matthews shouted
“Bartender please!” over and over, the audience members lifting their hands as if
signaling for another round. Guest keyboardist Butch Taylor played a Bruce
Hornsby-esque gospel blues piano vamp that melted into a piercing
pennywhistle solo from Moore as the song eventually broke down into a
thumping, spare rhythm.
Matthews pulled out his electric guitar for the
Calypso-flavored “Fool to Think,” as the group took on the sound of a jam
band of a different stripe. The mix of electric guitar and keening synths
gave the song a whiff of Rush’s prog rock sound, which didn’t seem to throw
the audience off, since it quickly busted into full noodle dancing mode for
the band’s drawn-out set-ending take on the jamgrass tune “Two Step.”
Hell, Matthews got so into it he even played a rare guitar solo, a brief
flamenco-inspired couple of notes that floated in the breeze near the end of
Tinsley’s mandolin-like violin plucking frenzy and an extended showdown
between Taylor’s boogie-woogie piano and Beauford’s military-style drumming.
Even though a majority of the crowd seemed to be fresh out of college, maybe
even high school, fans ate up the five and six-minute jams as much as the
bookending longer ones, perhaps proving Matthews’ point that you can grow and
change without losing or alienating a notoriously rabid fanbase.
“I was a little surprised they didn’t jam as much as they used to,” said
superfan Julie Whaley, 41, of Kansas City, Kansas. The owner of a “DMB Fan” license
plate — who stayed in Cincinnati an extra three days with her two young sons
to catch the show — said she was just as happy to hear more songs than less
drawn-out ones. “They did enough jamming to satisfy the fans and they didn’t
seem to mind all the shorter, newer songs.”
Dave Matthews Band set list:
- “What Would You Say”
- “When the World Ends”
- “The Stone”
- “Grey Street”
- “You Never Know”
- “Loving Wings”
- “Where Are You Going”
- “Big Eyed Fish”
- “Dancing Nancies”
- “Proudest Monkey”
- “Fool to Think”
- “Two Step”
- “Digging a Ditch”
- “All Along the Watchtower”
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.