There were no surprises at Saratoga Performing Arts Center Friday night as Dave Matthews Band once again began a two-night stint at the venue before a raucous, soldout crowd.
But that’s not a bad thing. Matthews and the band — bassist Stefan Lessard, violinist Boyd Tinsley, drummer Carter Beauford, saxophonist Jeff Coffi n, guitarist Tim Reynolds and trumpeter Rashawn Ross — have proven their mettle at the amphitheater year after year after year. Their sets are always heavy on the jams and heavy on the fun, and the legions of fans keep returning.
This year’s performances come with a touch of the bittersweet, as Matthews and company are taking a breather from the road for the first time in 20 years next year. But Friday’s show would have been an excellent send-off, even without the second performance, scheduled for 7:30 tonight . The band wasted no time amping up the crowd, kicking things off with “Big Eyed Fish.”
Extended jams came early in the set, with “Bartender” up next. Coffi n, who replaces the late founding member LeRoi Moore on the road these days, burned things up with a flute solo, of all things, while Matthews threw in some vocal acrobatics of his own. The energy continued to climb with “GrooGrux King” and “Seven.”
The mid-set “Dreamgirl” was the first real “breather” the band gave the crowd (if you want to call it that). The gentle acoustic lines gave way to more of the nimble instrumental interplay this band is known for, with Matthews in particular getting a chance to shine with some buoyant fretboard runs on his acoustic.
Each instrumentalist shone through at one point or another, with birthday boy Lessard often starting out the songs by laying down fat, improvised grooves. Tinsley’s violin alternated between screaming raunch and bluegrassy fiddling. And of course, Beauford, grinning ear-to-ear, had more than his share of moments behind the kit, taking an extended solo towards the end of the set.
“Grace is Gone,” another slow burner, turned into one of the evening’s finer jams, with the band eventually morphing a simple groove into a rollicking country breakdown that sped up to near breaking point before the band floated back down to earth again.
But the group was just getting started. A medley of “Cornbread” and “Recently” fl owed together seamlessly, once again pumping the energy up in the packed theater. Matthews brought the crowd down again with “You and Me,” only to surge forth stronger than ever on the classic “Jimi Thing.” “Shake Me Like a Monkey” followed to close out the main set on a screamingly high note.
Woodstock’s own Felice Brothers played an energetic set to kick things off, as the amphitheater quickly began filling up. Singerguitarist Ian Felice delivered the bulk of the songs, including the rocking “Love Me Tenderly,” in a pseudo-Bob Dylan voice that meshed well with the band’s mix of bluegrass and indie crunch. Accordionist James Felice also got a chance to shine, his gruffer vocals providing a nice change of pace later on in the set. Other highlights included the gently haunting “Katie Dear” and the riotous “Run Chicken Run.”
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