NEW YORK — Dave Matthews might as well move here right now, what with all the shout-outs he gave the city during his band's three-hour benefit concert in Central Park Wednesday night.
Matthews snuck lyrics into his songs about the park, the metropolis itself, and the police and fire departments, stirring up lots of applause for the forthcoming CD and DVD souvenirs of the event (see "Dave Matthews Band Plans Free NYC Concert"). The DMB didn't draw the half million Simon & Garfunkel attracted with a 1981 reunion concert in the park, but the 85,000 on hand were enough to raise $2 million for the schools of New York City and the band's hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia.
The Dave Matthews Band is a major draw, but some fans may have been hoping to hear material from Matthews' solo album, Some Devil, released the day before. No luck there, but the band did bring out, as promised, a special guest: Allman Brothers and Gov't Mule guitarist — and fellow noodler — Warren Haynes, whose soaring contribution to a cover of Neil Young's "Cortez the Killer" was the highlight of the evening.
With Haynes in the lead — and DMB essentially backing him up — the sometimes wandering jam band became more focused and dropped some of its best-known shtick: bassist Stefan Lessard's hip-wiggling, for instance, and Matthews' trademark eyeball-rolling. Instead, Hayes and Matthews simply traded off verses, with Matthews toning down his usual ebullience and actually sounding better the more restrained he got.
Hayes stuck around for a version of "Jimi Thing" that morphed into Buffalo Springfield's '60s hit "For What It's Worth," a song brought out in past concerts as an instrumental. This time, however, Matthews interpolated some lyrics of his own that give the song a contemporary edge. Later, a three-minute bass solo on what turned out to be "The Star Spangled Banner" added to the political mood. The national anthem then morphed into the band's by-now-familiar version of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," which the group has deconstructed and reassembled into a very different take on the original tune.
Morphing from one song into another — and from one mood into another — is a DMB specialty, but it can be confusing. With all the musical stops and starts and changing dynamics, even some of the band's most ardent fans had trouble telling where some songs ended and others began.
The 22-song set list was heavy with fan favorites, from "What Would You Say" and "Ants Marching" to "Too Much" and "Grey Street." And of course there were many, many long solos by various members of the group, mainly violinist Boyd Tinsley and saxman LeRoi Moore.
As always, this DMB performance was more about tightness and technique than it was about simple showmanship. The incessantly cheering fans liked that just fine, especially in the park's dramatic environment, where red and purple spotlights lit the trees around the stage, creating a saturated fall-foliage effect. Critics will always quibble about this band, but the group's Wednesday night performance was one that hard-core fans won't soon forget.
CD and DVD versions of the Central Park concert will be released November 11.
- "Don't Drink the Water"
- "So Much to Say"
- "Too Much"
- "When the World Ends"
- "Dancing Nancies"
- "Ants Marching"
- "Rhyme & Reason"
- "Two Step"
- "Help Myself"
- "Cortez the Killer"
- "Jimi Thing"
- "For What It's Worth"
- "What Would You Say"
- "Where Are You Going"
- "Star Spangled Banner"
- "All Along the Watchtower"
- "Grey Street"
- "What You Are"
- "Stay (Wasting Time)"
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.