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Sure, Dave Matthews gets a little emotional, but that's the best part

August 15th, 2005

San Francisco Chronicle - Joel Selvin, Chronicle Senior Pop Music Critic

c081505.jpgWhen Dave Matthews sings, he gets so worked up, veins bulge on his neck. His songs start slowly, but invariably end with his band crashing huge waves of sound behind him, while he pours on the passion.

What exactly he's so worked up about is not all that easy to divine, but there was no doubting the connection he made with the more than 55,000 fans that thronged both his appearances this weekend at SBC Park, not sold out, but still easily the biggest shows of the lackluster summer season.

Blending some of the world beat explorations of Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel with the elasticity of the Grateful Dead, the Matthews band has become the only major new rock act to emerge in the past 10 years that can sell out stadiums. All this has been accomplished almost entirely on the band's own terms, without great support from radio or many concessions to the so-called conventional wisdom of the record industry.

Also, in defiance of industry standards, the Dave Matthews Band stands for quality music, not the evanescent junk that has been ruling the charts in recent years.

Matthews is clearly his own man. He went onstage Friday in what were almost certainly the same clothes he wore to the show -- no stage suits for him -- and braved the chilly, windswept outfield night air with his shirt untucked, sleeves rolled up. The fog rolled in just about the time the band took the stage and turned on its own puny little fog machine.

For more than two hours, flanked by giant video screens and performing underneath a giant half-sphere of elaborate lighting, Matthews pounded it out, his acoustic rhythm guitar stoking the engine of the band's music as the other four musicians built a remarkably varied, kaleidoscopic sound around him. The Matthews band made room for guest guitarist Eric Krasno of Soulive and trumpeter Rashawn Ross, who has toured with Soulive and Yerba Buena, and not just for some quick cameo, but as full members of the ensemble for almost the entire second half of the concert. Krasno's solos on "Jimi Thing" turned the piece into one of the evening's instrumental highlights.

But with the powerful, fluid rhythm section of drummer Carter Beauford and bassist Stefan Lessard, there was little that could go wrong. Violinist Boyd Tinsley colored the sound with a kind of constant buzzing, and multihorn man Leroi Moore proved deft at filling out the arrangements as well as blasting solos over the top. Butch Taylor on keyboards added dense layers.

Opening with "Don't Drink the Water" and Matthews popping that vein on the climactic refrain, the band shifted into the rock-samba of "Dreamgirl" from the new album, "Stand Up," extending the piece with a snake-charmer soprano sax solo from Moore. The band opened up all the songs, stretching the selections into new shapes, turning each performance into a mini-epic. Even a faithful rendition of the Zombies' classic, "Time of the Season," was given two lengthy organ solos.

Each piece seemed designed to slowly build to a dramatic platform where Matthews can engage in his oblique paroxysms, explosions of considerable emotional power but somewhat obscure origin. But with the band's irresistible mighty sweep, in a sense, it doesn't matter what he's going on about.

Although older fans were sprinkled throughout the crowd, Matthews clearly strikes a slender socioeconomic cross section of recent college graduates who resemble the man himself, beginning to show a little chipmunk cheeks and male pattern baldness. Some of the fans not so familiar with San Francisco nighttime weather on the waterfront, showed up in T-shirts and shorts.

In a peculiar pairing, the Mathews band was preceded on the bill by a couple of current pop sensations, the Black Eyed Peas and Jem, who were a few years shy of the audience's target demographic. The Peas proved energetically entertaining, aided substantially by the vocal talents of the young lady who calls herself Fergie, not that the Matthews partisans cared especially.

Dave Matthews: Stand-up guy

He's with the Band