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Dave Matthews Band misses too many opportunities

June 15th, 2006

By JEFF MIERS / NEWS POP MUSIC CRITIC - Concert Review

DARIEN CENTER - Throughout Wednesday evening's Dave Matthews Band concert at Darien Lake, there were moments of potential musical glory. Unfortunately, Matthews and his band rarely seized them. Opportunities for the deepening of the Matthews groove - estimable, deep and often threatening to explode - passed by, and though the emotional content of the tunes was high, the missed opportunities took their toll. Matthews & Co. have a great track record at Darien Lake. They've offered up top-notch, near-transcendent shows there, last year's gig most definitely among them. This year's show, while it had its moments, was not up to the level of previous years' shows. Though the band was funky, sensual and attempting to get deep in the groove, it never quite clicked.

There were early signs that this would be a great show. Opening with "One Sweet World," the group dug deep, dropping, oh, so naturally into an easygoing, laid-back groove, and seeming to find great joy in the process. Matthews was in great voice from the beginning, exploiting his baritone-ish range to elevate the emotional pitch of the songs, much to the extremely vocal, near sold-out crowd.

But the band ran into problems rather quickly, pretty much as soon as the improvisational sections of the songs started. Though he has clearly written songs that are already classics - "Satellite," "Crash," "Some Devil" and a few dozen others - Matthews has failed to bond with a significant improvisational voice in his band. Carter Beauford, the band's incredibly versatile, dynamic and virtuosic drummer, elevates every single tune above the sometimes pedestrian level of Matthews' chord progressions, but he is very rarely met at his own level by the other musicians in the band, principally sax man Leroi Marinelli and violinist Boyd Tinsley. The ball was often tossed their way, and each time - painful as this is to admit, since the fever pitch created by the band, and echoed back at them by the crowd, was quite high - the soloists fumbled it.

"Crash," however, came off without a flaw, as did at least one new tune, which boasted a warm, inviting, sexy Matthews melody. During "Crash," Matthews and the band explored the joy inherent in the song's repetitive chord changes. This time, it worked, other times - as in some lengthy jam sections that went nowhere quick, principally because the soloists took them nowhere - it just didn't.

"Crazy" - a super strong Matthews tune from his best album, "Before These Crowded Streets" - was flawless, Beauford leading the group into animated rhythmic terrain, and Matthews feeling it deeply, his singing reflecting the rhythmic dynamism of Beauford's playing.

But for much of Wednesday's show, Matthews and his bandmates seemed to be pitching gopher balls that no one was able to hit. That might change by next year. One hopes.