Dave Matthews took advantage of "the world's
largest outdoor bar" setting Friday at the first of two sold-out
shows at Wrigley Field, playing matchmaker as he drew on
spirit-boosting songs that addressed themes of fawning devotion,
spellbound infatuation and romantic pleasure.
Moving away from the extended jamming of the past, the gregarious
43-year-old singer/guitarist primarily focused on organized
arrangements that better served the music's rhythmic pursuits and
twitching grooves. Joined onstage by longtime
collaborator/guitarist Tim Reynolds, the Dave Matthews Band
appeared motivated by an urgency that occasionally clashed with
the unhurried vibes of its mellower material. An edgy version of
the Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House" and the fluid punch of
Reynolds' electric guitar expressed the group's intent: More taut
rock and funk, less watered-down fusion. The collective can well
afford to change things up.
A concert juggernaut, Dave Matthews Band sold 11.6 million tickets
and grossed $529.1 million in North America from 2000-2009,
numbers that gave it bragging rights as the top touring act of the
decade. The South African native's group earned the recognition.
Akin to a modern-day Grateful Dead, the ensemble has hit the road
for 20 consecutive years. But the streak is about to end. In May,
Matthews announced the band will take 2011 off—its first-ever
break. The revelation apparently sparked the leader's energy.
"Last night I stumbled around the streets of Chicago. If I saw
you, I might not remember," Matthews half-jokingly confessed
midway through the 145-minute set. The admission resonated with
the crowd, which included a fair amount of frat-like dudes that
high-fived one another at the start of nearly every song. And
while certain atmospheric elements resembled the bleacher scenes
at a Cubs game—people's conversations drowned out whisper-soft
acoustic fare such as "Sister"; some fans seemed oblivious to the
on-field action—the bond between artist and audience frequently
Participatory sing-a-longs buoyed the gypsy-flavored "Dancing
Nancies" and sticky-foot shuffle "Don't Drink the Water."
Matthews' lilting vocals and rubbery falsetto functioned as ideal
delivery vehicles for channeling sweet nothings—"We can do
anything baby"; "I think the world of you"; "You make me feel
high"; "Head over heels for you"-- any smitten girl or boy would
long to hear. Violinist Boyd Tinsley supplied country-tinged solos
that swirled together with folk melodies, the styles coalescing in
the form of jigs, waltzes and marches. Drummer Carter Beauford
held everything together, even injecting lithe beats into a few
milquetoast sequences that shared more in common with background
coffeehouse fare than jazz.
Matthews was at his best when combining faintly strummed notes
with swelling hooks to produce brief sensations of vertigo. "Rapunzel"
hopped to stop-start tempos and "Crush" threatened to float into
the ether. The slow-build dynamic peaked on a biting rendition of
Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower." Overlaying segments of Led
Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" onto the oft-covered standard, the
band created a live mash-up that would've made electronic wizard
Girl Talk proud.
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