July 8th, 2006
By Sarah Rodman, Globe Staff
It was the perfect weather for an evening out at Fenway Park and, aside from the curiously fragrant smoke in the air and the folding chairs cluttering up the outfield, it actually felt a little like a game last night during the first of two sold-out shows by the Dave Matthews Band.
Of all the acts that have played the beloved ballyard during the past four years the amiable Virginia-spawned jam-popsters felt like the most comfortable fit, the least like some kind of breathless, spectacular ``event."
Which doesn't mean the surprisingly quick moving two-hour and 45-minute show wasn't eventful -- the band was in strong form and the set list was well-paced and thoughtfully chosen -- just that the big-money, VIP-ness of past shows was less evident in the collegial, multigenerational crowd.
The night began gently with the quintet -- accessorized by trumpeter Rashawn Ross and keyboardist Butch Taylor -- easing into the murmur of ``Everyday." While the tempo remained on low for a few songs the band managed to keep the tension in the grooves by keeping the tunes -- including ``Pig," ``Proudest Monkey," and ``Satellite" -- short and sweet.
Elaborate instrumental embellishments came on less than a handful of tunes and worked well on an epic and funky version of ``Jimi Thing," which featured Matthews busting out his intricate scat skills, and culminated in a few choruses of ``For What It's Worth." ``Bartender" on the other hand, with Taylor's meandering piano patterns and a piccolo solo, felt interminable. Did you see the concert? Talk about it here.
But that was one of only a very few lulls in what was otherwise a pleasant and upbeat show that, as always, showcased the virtuosity of drummer Carter Beauford as he tapped, tickled, slapped, smacked , and caressed his drum kit with an astonishing feel for rhythms both straightforward -- as on the hit ballad ``Crash Into Me" -- and specialized -- like the serpentine ``Last Stop."
It was hard to tell if Matthews customized any of his banter for the special setting because when he did speak it was in his trademark wry mumble, where you got the sense something droll was being said but it was impossible to tell what. (A sound-check version of ``Sweet Caroline" didn't materialize in the actual set but the scoreboard did included the band's name spelled out under the inning numbers).
Warming up the crowd during the steamy late afternoon Sheryl Crow was downright radiant, even as much of the ballpark was slowly filling in during her 50- minute set and she got the short end of the sound mix stick.
In light of her extremely public break up and recent cancer surgery some of her lyrics took on added poignancy especially the now-defiant-sounding ``Strong Enough" and the jubilant chorus of ``Everyday Is a Winding Road."
A string ensemble that was hard to hear appeared for a few numbers in a mostly hit-oriented set that came to a decisive close with a tight, rumbling version of Led Zeppelin's ``Rock and Roll" with Crow doing her best Robert Plant yelp.