August 29th, 2006
By Paul Gargano
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Dave Matthews walked onstage in front of the sold-out crowd at Verizon Amphitheater on Friday night as if he didn't have a worry in the world.
He strolled around the open stage for a minute or so, checked out the crowd and made a few gestures in recognition of their ovation, strapped a guitar over his shoulder and couldn't have been any more nonchalant as he broke into the opener, "Pantala Naga Pampa/Rapunzel."
And for the next two hours and 45 minutes, the music erased every worry in the world throughout the crowd -- from the young set, embracing their generation's more mainstream and pop-minded descendent of the Grateful Dead, to middle-age aficionados who marveled at Matthews and his six-piece live band's acute blend of world music flair, jazz-fueled funk and soul-soaked charisma.
Tagged by many as a prototypical "jam band," Matthews and company shattered that label early in the 18-song set. They never strayed far from the confines of their recorded songs yet still personalized such numbers as "Proudest Monkey" and "You Might Die Trying" with instrumental pizzazz and a free-form spirit that was spontaneous and fresh. The fact that the band radically changes its set list from night to night surely helped, but the true magic was in the individual performances, making the concert a celebration of music, not hit singles.
Radio favorites "Satellite," "So Much to Say," "Crash Into Me" and closer "Ants Marching" were well-received, but some of the most animated crowd responses came from new material. Violinist Boyd Tinsley sparked "Shotgun" and fueled its epic rise. His rapid-fire play was an apt contrast to Matthews' vocals, which toggled from quaint and sultry to atonal and pained throughout the night; his off-kilter scatting was never more than a Leroi Moore saxophone blast away. "Break Free" offered the band a chance to do just that, and "Can't Stop" boasted a sexy and sultry swagger, but the most jarring of the new tracks was "Sister," the acoustic encore opener performed solo by Matthews.
Before the encore, opening act Robert Randolph and his pedal steel guitar joined the band at center stage as an impromptu intro into "Louisiana Bayou." The hotshot newcomer's old-school funk magnified the song's Cajun spice to red-hot heights and served as the perfect accompaniment to bassist Stefan Lessard's thick groove. In a fitting summation of the night's proceedings, each musician had an opportunity to shine, and each played his part as the music soared to ecstatic heights. Matthews has a disarming charm and an everyman appeal. Yet as common as he is, his band's uncommon performance proved more provocative than anything on today's mainstream map.