SARATOGA SPRINGS Absence supposedly makes the heart grow fonder, but in the case of the Dave Matthews Band at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, there really isn’t a higher level for hearts to go.
After a year away, the band returned to SPAC Friday night for the first of its two traditional, back-to-back performances. They were greeted the way they’ve always been, year after year — to a sold-out house, a sea of fans, young and old, stretching as far back as the eye could see, all screaming at the top of their lungs. And if these fans were more enthusiastic due to last year’s layoff, it would be hard to tell given the level of enthusiasm that’s already been present at these sold out events in past years.
Ringleader Dave Matthews and the rest of the bunch — drummer Carter Beauford, bassist Stefan Lessard, violinist Boyd Trinsley, saxophonist Jeff Coffin, lead guitarist Tim Reynolds and trumpeter Rashawn Ross — wasted no time getting to the jams this evening. Taking the stage about 8:15, the band started out in contemplative mode on “Proudest Monkey,” allowing Ross and Reynolds to duke out solos during the instrumental breaks.
From there on out, for the rest of the three-hour running time, the show was a roller coaster ride of rockers, ballads, full-on jam freakouts and blistering solos, with little room to breathe between numbers. Second song “Don’t Drink the Water” kicked things into a higher gear, only for “You Never Know” to bring the vibe down to a slow groove again.
This push and pull continued, through an ominous build on “Funny the Way It Is,” featuring nice interlocking guitar playing from Matthews and Reynolds, and the Middle Eastern vibe of “Minarets.” It was all building to the first explosive jam of the evening, on the cryptically titled “#41,” which encompassed a steady groove for the main song, a building solo section with snarling leads from Coffin and Reynolds, and a gentle ending that slowly coasted to a halt. All in all, it was perhaps the best of at least three more extended jams the band sank its teeth into this night.
Fans flock to welcome Dave back to SPAC. Click HERE.
Other highlights included the ever-popular “What Would You Say?” enlivened by an insane trumpet solo from Ross, and the grooving ballad “Say Goodbye” — the vehicle for Beauford’s requisite drum solo this night. A stretch with most of the members of opening band Lettuce joining Matthews and company on stage shot the energy up even more. With the additional power in the horn section, “Can’t Stop” turned into a snarling beast of a jam, even under Matthew’s most intense vocal performance of the evening. “Shake Me Like a Monkey” likewise roared with the additional personnel, and was one of the shortest yet most satisfying songs the band played.
View a wide-angle lens photo of the crowd. Click HERE. (Photo by Alex Haff)
Boston funk powerhouse Lettuce kicked things off at 7 as the amphitheater slowly filled. Their mostly instrumental set, anchored by thundering rhythm section Adam Deitch on drums and Erick Coomes on bass, brought an old school ’70s sound to the proceedings. The songs were jam-based, but not tediously so, with rhythms changing and inverting often in the space of a single measure.