The Dave Matthews Band opened its first of two shows at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center Friday night with “Come Tomorrow,” the title track from the record released last month.
Not the most exciting choice for the hardcore fans, but the song was classic Dave: smooth, understated with a swell toward the end, and always cool. While nothing much happened, it flowed forward nicely, featured a sweet reed solo by Jeff Coffin, and then ended without warning, as many of them did through the night.
Matthews ran through several songs quickly, without a major rise and fall or any solos. But there were also plenty that stretched out with meandering horn solos while the band stayed on course.
In the bluesy, somewhat soft “Raven” early in the show, Coffin took a long, jazzy solo, twirling the melody into a ball, again not raising the energy, but letting the band huddle up around Matthews’ acoustic strumming to find their stride.
“Stay or Leave” was the first song to raise the energy a notch or two, the audience singing louder than Matthews until the band kicked in, prompting Matthews to jiggle around the stage a bit with his tightly strapped guitar.
There were moments in the sound that were noticeably missing with the absence of violinist Boyd Tinsley. In his place this tour is keyboardist Buddy Strong, whose role filled out the rhythm section nicely. His two lengthy solos were wonderful, particularly during “Grace is Gone.”
Matthews made it clear he was impressed and supportive, walking the stage to visit the band members one by one, visibly enjoying the moment. At one point Strong snuck in a Miles Davis classic lick from “Kind of Blue” – planned or unplanned – which the band mimicked. To end the jam, the group let Strong fade the song down to the bottom, while Dave shut his eyes and danced for us.
For the most part Friday night, the band stayed solid and loyal to the song while Strong and the soloists wandered. It is these instances that earn the band its “jam-band” status. While these jams are a small percentage of the show, they are quality musical experiences.
Guitarist Tim Reynolds fiddled on slide for a few tunes, and took one great slide solo late in the show. He is well aware that with one quick flick of his slide he could trigger the audience to explode, as they were apt to do all night. Instead, he played softly, subtly, and slowly. He is the anti-guitar hero with his years of understated presence.
He played another great solo during “Warehouse/Louie Louie,” getting loose and speedy with his guitar pick. At one point he climbed to the high-point of the fret board gently, still refraining from playing the guitar-shredder role, though he can. He is an impressive, underrated soloist. The island feel they give the song was a nice deviation from their usual and showed the range of the rhythm section, particularly during Rashawn Ross’ trumpet solo.
Matthews told us toward the back of the show, that he tended to turn toward family and children as topics to write about. He clarified family to include the band and his fans.
“We got to look after each other. What’s happening on the Southern border is just terrible,” said Matthews, noting that we should “never, never tear a baby out of a mother’s arms. Never, never, never.”
The crowd exploded with support.
He played “Time Bomb” later on, one of the most intense tunes of the night that the band pushed hard, with lines like “If Martians fell from the sky . . . . would we put the weapons down or aim it up at the sky?” Reynolds played a cool lead that echoed the melody.
Like Reynolds, Matthews also mostly sang with a calm, collected presence, only leaning on his classic pleading yells—even the joyful shouts can have a yearning tone—when the song called for them.
When Matthews sings, his face contorts every which way, the kind of expressions people like to hide from the world. But Matthews—and his audience—never care or notice, as demonstrated when the large screen zoomed big on his mug during the most emotional times.
Collectively the DMB crowd was overwhelmingly a fun, positive group Friday night. They were also a busy group, singing along at full volume, taping, Snapchatting, taking solo and group selfies, high-fiving, moving to different spots to visit different friends, texting songlists to absent friends, partying, and so on.
But it’s a happy crowd who know their DMB music, call out the song from the first chord, and treat it seriously.
Friday night’s show, like all the DMB shows, are events—unique, genuine, and memorable.
Matthews remains a large, positive force in the jam-band world and based on Friday night, and the number of sold out shows this tour, all indicators point to many more good, quality years for the band and fans.
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