We've waited a long time for this. Dave Matthews brought it all together Tuesday night, a stadium rock show fronted by an acoustic guitar strummer. If you're twentysomething, not a dirtball, and had $45 to drop on a three-tiered concert bill, there was a spot for you at the Mile High Matthews show Tuesday night.
Dave Matthews turned Mile High Stadium into a living room groove "n' jam Tuesday night, stretching out his epic atmospherics and spreading the gospel of rocking good news. Part of the irresistible appeal of seeing this band live is the chance to see a gathering of musicians that really function as a band, organically evolving their collective consciousness and disseminating the feeling to the 45,000 fans surrounding them.
With DMB, the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. Their concerts are rarely about showcasing untenable genius at a given instrument. Boyd Tinsley's violin lines and LeRoi Moore's sax backing rarely stand out as virtuoso musicianship, but their subtle fills as part of the tapestry of music Matthews creates are integral to the band's distinctive sound. Drummer Carter Beauford stands out as the most significant force in a band driven by rhythms and grooves. Beauford got stellar support throughout the evening from Ben Harper's percussionist David Lees, turning even the most straightforward progressions into multi-layered assaults.
There are virtually no imitators of DMB for the simple reason that there is no recipe to break down and redistribute for mass consumption. Every song's a journey when the band takes the stage, and what often starts out as a spare, finger picking, gentle-minded etude can quickly transform itself into an explosive barn burner of energy and attitude, building and unfolding until the stage is swept up in channeling the spirit of rockers come and gone.
Matthews is one of the few musicians whose career is still mostly in front of him as opposed to mostly behind him who can easily hold a stadium. Too often, stadium shows succeed on a nostalgic legacy adorned with bells and whistles, high tech light shows and exploding flash pots. Matthews comes across as ironically introverted, connecting with the audience, but loosing himself in the spell of the musical interplay on the stage. Twice he let loose doing the Dave dance, making use of the full stage to give hope to all the grace-deficient movers and shakers in the audience.
In the crowd, women nine rows from the stage watched the giant video screens, laughing like giddy schoolgirls and clapping like cheerleaders when a particularly appealing close-up of the bandleader came on the screen. The sea of fans sang along with most of the songs, and a handful of enthusiast up front repeatedly sang the opening lines to "Long Black Veil" before every new song until Matthews finally unleashed his revamped version of the old traditional fourteen songs and 2 hours into the show, beautifully backed by a trio of singers from Ben Harper's band who launched into the kind of vocal jam that Matthews and his bandmates had been practicing instrumentally throughout the night.
Among the early highlights were an expansive 30-minute version of "Seek Up" that opened the show, quickly defying the myth of pin-point choreography needed to pull off stadium-sized shows. The band used the song to stake out their turf, taking control of the pace and setting the tone for exploration and expansion. Other highlights included "Crash," "Bartender," and "Stay."
Few musicians can get the dynamic range out of an acoustic guitar that Matthews does, modulating rhythms and driving a percussive spine into his songs that redefines the concept of wooden music. The point was made with finality when he launched into back to back encores of "Grace is Gone" and "All Along the Watchtower." "All Along the Watchtower" has been owned at any given time by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, Neil Young, and, oh yes, Bob Dylan. Matthews renewed his lease on the song for the 21st century Tuesday, enlisting Ben Harper to join him on some screaming lap steal leads as the wind began to howl.
The crowd left the nearly three-hour show rejuvenated, as healthy as it gets in the world of rock "n' roll, ready to retire to their own garrets, pull out the six strings, and do some jamming of their own. There's not much more you can ask for from a mild-mannered rock icon, giving his generation something to twist and shout about.
Best of What's Around
Rhyme and Reason
Sweet up and Down
Long Black Veil
Drive in Drive Out
Grace is Gone
All Along the Watchtower
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