The Dave Matthews Band opened their first of two sold-out shows at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center Friday night with a drawn-out “Bartender” that was meant to send a jolt into the already high-energy crowd, then bring them all the way down before moving into the next tune, a rollercoaster pattern Matthews stayed with most of the night.
The sound wasn’t just right for this first tune, but it didn’t matter, Matthews gave his jungle yells, drummer Carter Beauford was let loose and each horn member then stretched a bit, climbing together and then effectively sedating the crowd with a light touch to end the 15-minute opener. The show had begun.
Next came “Everyday,” led by the crowd chanting while violinist Boyd Tinsley dug into his first solo of the night.
“Proudest Monkey” is a mellow, intense tune that requires full attention. Few gave it. Instead, the noisy crowd was busy on their cellphones, laughing with friends and occupying themselves until the next burst of excitement. LeRoi Moore blew a wonderfully tempered soprano sax solo here that unraveled nicely.
Rashawn Ross followed with an equally jazzy trumpet solo. Ross is a large fellow who can blow a very calm horn, which he did, though eventually rising to full-lung capacity.
The real action during these jams was with the band and the pocket they created for the soloists to rummage around. That’s where Matthews liked to hang out with his acoustic chords.
Next came the waltzy hit “Satellite,” which they ran through faster than any of the others. “We’re just getting started,” Matthews told the sold-out crowd. He was right.
The first guitar solo of the night came during “Corn Bread,” Tim Reynolds playing a showy slide guitar that wasn’t necessary.
For those who needed more than the music, the video production was superb in quality and quantity. Sometimes five screens showed close-ups of different band members, other screens showing random footage associated with the song. It was fun for sure, but must every pop-culture event try to feel like a sports bar?
Dave Matthews fans travel in large clusters. The festivities start early in the day. By time the concert starts — after months of waiting and a day of partying — the crowd is maniacal. Matthews knows this and works hard to manage their energy, containing it at times, blowing off the lid other times. He has the luxury of feeding off it, not having to create it.
After the wonderful ruckus of “You Might Die Trying,” Matthews sat down at a piano to sing the somber “Out of My Hands.” The crowd showed no respect here again, yapping, shouting, ignoring the music. The band creeped in to bring a full sound, and Matthews kept the music focused and tight on his vocals. He knows well the power of his soft voice.
They then blew through an uneventful but energized version of the Rolling Stones’ “Bitch.”
Matthews turned on his sex appeal for “Crush,” with his near-primal screams against soft raspy notes, making it clear, for any who wondered, why the man, and the band, sells out consistently, year after year, when so few do these days.
It’s worth mentioning that the band is a racially integrated unit, something you rarely see in large and small acts.
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals opened the show, a good ol’ raw jamming garage band led by a strong-voiced, young bluesy woman on a Hammond organ, of all things. While the seats were still empty during their performance, they played their hearts out. “Stop the Bus” was their typical no-frill, loud, raunchy glob of rock and roll, with Potter’s voice coming through it all loud and clear. It was nice — and so rare — to see a woman lead so rough a band. Keep your eye on her.