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Musicianship meets the vibe in Dave Matthews Band

August 31, 2006

AARON DAVIS

The Dave Matthews Band can beat the New York Yankees.

All right, so none of the effervescent quintet's members would have any chance of going yard against a Randy Johnson slider. But when it comes to ticket sales, even the devils in pinstripes have to bow down.

On Ticketmaster's list of the most-requested events midway through 2006, Dave Matthews Band ranks a solid seventh, edging out the Bronx Bombers, as well as Bon Jovi and Coldplay,

All of which begs the question: Why?

Why does Matthews rank among the top-grossing tours in America? Why do legions of "Daveheads" such as myself trail after a goofy 39-year-old dork of a frontman from South Africa and his unassuming bandmates (none of whom carries a hint of rock-star flash)?

The answer lies in the vibe. The Dave Matthews Band performs Wednesday at Raley Field in West Sacramento.

It's all about the vibe, people. It's about the gleaming, celebratory moods of a Matthews show strung together by first-rate musicianship and air-tight jams. There is Matthews' own playful strumming, the soulful saxophone of LeRoi Moore, Boyd Tinsley's violin and the thundering ambidextrous abuse Carter Beauford gives his drum kit each night.

Two things are evident about the Dave Matthews Band in 2006. First, these veteran jammers are actually getting better. Second, they appear to be having more fun than at any point in their career, a turnaround fueled by tunes such as the playful "Dream Girl" and the swamp-on-fire "Louisiana Bayou" from the group's latest studio album, 2005's "Stand Up."

I caught two Dave Matthews Band shows last month in Wisconsin. I found the group to be playing with more spring in their step than ever before, with rejuvenated wanderlust as a more-chatty and exuberant Matthews two-steps around the stage amid the band's smoldering jams.

The band also is road testing some new tunes, like the crooning "The Idea of You" and super-funky bass work from Stefan Lessard on "Can't Stop," a song that's appeared almost every night of the tour.

Even after 15 years - 10 for me as a fan - each show is fresh and strong, and the band has never played the same set twice. As in never.

Wednesday's show will be my 21st. You think I'm crazy? My Wisconsin traveling companion, Holly Matthews - no relation and, believe me, I checked - has been to 110.

It's now been 10 years since the Matthews' hit "Crash Into Me" first mobbed the radio. The cuddle-up tune still has the power to draw adoring wails from casual fans, but it also irks devout setlist aficionados and tape-traders who would rather hear every bit of stage time devoted to old-school jams such as "The Song That Jane Likes" or "Granny."

In case you are wondering, I'm in the latter category. But somehow us anti-airwave folk and the everyday fans always find a way to co-exist at Dave Matthews Band shows.

Neither group, however, has an easy time explaining why they love the Dave Matthews Band. The mystique of this one-of-a-kind outfit almost defies description, and that's just the way Matthews would want it.

Matthews band still knows how to jam

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