PHILADELPHIA -- Dave Matthews, who got his start in clubs in and
around Charlottesville, Va., couldn't resist commenting on the enormity
of Veterans Stadium, where the Dave Matthews Band launched a two-week string of large-arena shows Thursday.
"I understand this is one of the bigger clubs in town," Matthews said before the band began a thundering version of "Tripping Billies," an uptempo pop tune with a violin solo.
This is the second year in a row the Dave Matthews Band have dropped a
string of blockbuster Northeastern stadium dates into the middle of their
spring and summer tour. Classic-rockers Santana -- whose upcoming album, Supernatural, includes a cameo by Matthews -- and hip-hoppers the Roots are opening the seven-show run, which includes two more shows here followed by shows in East Rutherford, N.J., and Foxborough, Mass.
Last year, the Dave Matthews Band were joined by modern-rocker Beck and
pop band Ben Folds Five for stadium shows in East Rutherford and Foxborough.
Despite the size of the venue, Matthews and his band performed with minimal staging and no props, relying on the interaction of guitar, bass, drums, saxophone and violin for all their spark.
"This is radder than I've ever had it," Brian Crowther, a 19-year-old
Philadelphia fan said. He added that he'd seen Matthews three times
before. "His music just does it, you know."
In five years the band has grown from a staple of the Virginia club
scene to one of the top-drawing rock bands in the U.S., capable of filling
a stadium on successive nights. Thursday's show attracted a sell-out
crowd of around 55,000. The last acts to play a three-day stand at
Veterans Stadium were pop singers Billy Joel and Elton John, on a 1994
double bill, according to Ambrosia Healy, Matthews' publicist.
Judging from the reaction of that crowd, the Dave Matthews Band did not disappoint. It was "Sing-along with Matthews" time, as he and violinist Boyd Tinsley, drummer Carter Beauford, bassist Stefan Lessard and saxophonist Leroi Moore swept through their most well-known songs.
Jazz banjo player Bela Fleck, who has played on Matthews and Phish records, joined the band for "Don't Drink the Water" (RealAudio excerpt), "Crash Into Me" and "No. 41," as well as an encore performance of "Ants Marching," a song that helped propel the band into the pop mainstream in 1995.
The band was flanked by two giant video screens, while a monstrous lighting system loomed overhead, bathing the group with only a swirl of blue, purple and red for support. The onstage dynamics came from the interaction between Matthews and Tinsley, who was an electrifying figure in red, as he wailed on his violins and leaned into a bopping Matthews.
The songs varied in tempo but maintained a warmth and lush quality throughout. The set reached stadium-rock grandeur with the R&B tune "True Reflections," which Tinsley sang. But even the softest entry in the set, the 1995 single "Satellite," resonated through the stadium with a contemplative power.
J.J. Malyskan, 23, from Colonia, N.J., said he believes Matthews prefers clubs and theaters to the open space of a stadium, because of the intimate connections between bandmembers. But Malyskan said he was happy to see Matthews anywhere. "It's enjoyable, period," he said. "The music, to me, is very enlightening."
Santana also aimed for enlightenment during their hour-long set, which comprised eight loose jams. Bandleader Carlos Santana, wearing a black, white and green sweater and shades, belted lick after masterful guitar lick through a dense series of percussion arrangements. Fans cheered for versions of "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va."
The guitarist told the audience his music can "eliminate fear ... by creating a masterpiece of joy." He then cranked "Make Somebody Happy," from the 1992 album Milagro. The band, which includes singer Tony Lindsay and four percussionists, also previewed the Supernatural songs "Da Le Yaleo" and "Maria Maria"; the album is due June 15.
The Roots, whose Things Fall Apart is among the most critically celebrated
hip-hop albums of the year, opened with a passionately musical set to a seemingly uninterested crowd in a nearly empty stadium.
The group stuck to elements that have become staples of its live shows: rapid-fire rhymes by MC Black Thought (born Tariq Trotter), solos by drummer ?uestlove (born Ahmir Khalib Thompson) and bassist Leon Hubbard, and the beat-box zaniness of DJ Scratch and Rahzel the Godfather of Noize.
The set reached its peak with "You Got Me" (RealAudio excerpt), a soul song built around Black Thought's rhymes about commitment.