Dave Matthews is a brave man, standing up in front of 16,000 fans, strumming and singing the challenging vocals of “Rye Whiskey” while his band sat and watched at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. These are fans who bought their tickets for a canceled July 2020 show, and were finally seeing the Dave Matthews Band after more than a year of waiting. There he stood, scrunched face, his high falsetto screeching the slow, emotional lines, “If you don’t give me my rye whiskey, I surely will die.”
From there the full band eased into the sweet “One Sweet World,” and “That Girl is You,” and the show was off and running, rising and falling with each song, some moments higher than others, but all the music tight, smooth, and exciting.
Matthews is nothing if not exciting. He can incorporate a slow-build into anyone’s song, and structures almost all of his live tunes this way. The band’s members — as cool as any large touring act can be — fell into their pockets instantly, and changed tempo on a dime, as they did on “So Damn Lucky,” a tune that swayed nicely, built to a crescendo, then dropped out to rebuild again. The band worked this tune hard, and nicely without a clear lead player, lead guitarist Tim Reynolds strumming with Matthews. This song, with the previous “Pig,” together raised the show to the next level, where it stayed for a good chunk of the night.
A medley of tired covers – Huey Lewis and some Rolling Stones – with “Jimi Thing” was fun, let the band members stretch a little, but added little to the night. If anything, it gave everyone a rest before the show moved into its final stage of great DMB tunes.
The show soared in its final stretch with “Say Good-bye” and “Why I Am” and “Stay.”
The band toggled between straight-up rock show and jam band moments. While it is relaxed, and stretch out tunes with horn, reed, keys, and guitar solos – even alternate soloists within a chorus — it rarely goes off script. But the script is strong and somehow the band keeps it fresh for every show.
Matthews has a lot of personalities on a lot of different songs. He is one of pop-rock’s better male singers, from ballads to jazzy pop to rock ‘n roll. But he’s also not afraid. In “Minaret,” a tune that jerks forward and defies typical popular chord progressions, one you can take or leave, Matthews steps up to the mike and screams. Not a little scream: he wrings out his body with a series of primal yells, his face threatening to burst. A true madman, and a message to his fans – I’m all in, for you and for me. How he has a voice left after that I don’t know.
To be sure, he is always animated and worked hard all night. His fans also work hard, dancing through tunes and celebrating the first stroke of each new tune. The show required proof of vaccination or proof of a recent negative COVID test. Beyond that, fans were packed in like sardines having as good a time as ever, rarely a mask in sight. Matthews and his band made it easy to forget everything but the music.
See the show from our staff photographer Erica Miller’s perspective here.