September 7th, 2006
By Jim Harrington, STAFF WRITER Inside Bay Area
THE Dave Matthews Band isn't quite as popular as it was a few years ago, back in the days when the group could sell out multiple nights at football stadiums. But popularity is just one measure of artistic success. In terms of sheer musicianship, the Dave Matthews Band is currently at the absolute height of its game.
That was the case when the group performed Wednesday night at Raley Field in Sacramento, and it likely will be the case again tonight and Saturday when Dave and pals hit the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View.
It was a warm, clear night, with a full moon in the sky and nary a hint of wind as folks crowded into downtown Sacramento. Although best known as the home of the River Cats — the triple-A affiliate of the Oakland A's — Raley Field is a pretty ideal spot for live music. It's close to many good restaurants and, despite being roughly the same size as a regular amphitheater, it feels intimate. In all, it's a very nice alternative to the nearby Sleep Train Amphitheatre.
Following an opening set by pedal steel guitar guru Robert Randolph, who also will set the table for both Shoreline gigs, Dave Matthews and his band mates casually strolled onto the stage and noodled their way into the quickie "Pantala Naga Pampa." That track, as Dave's die-hard followers could tell you, always leads straight into the rollercoaster ride of "Rapunzel."
The twisting, turning version of "Rapunzel" was terrific — one of the best I've heard the band play — and it seemed from the very start that Wednesday was to be a special night.
After that rush of sheer adrenaline subsided, Matthews and crew — bassist Stefan Lessard, saxophonist Leroi Moore, violinist Boyd Tinsley, drummer Carter Beauford, keyboardist Butch Taylor and guest trumpeter Rashawn Ross — took a turn toward the mellow side of the band's songbook and delivered warm versions of "Proudest Monkey," "Dream Girl" and "The Idea of You."
Things begin to heat up again with "Shotgun," which featured some of Matthews' most passionate singing of the night, and really caught fire on the funky Zydeco-flavored "Louisiana Bayou." The band shifted gears again with the sexy fan favorite "Crash," which drew shrieks from the young females in attendance.
It was a perfect setup for the knockout punch that came with the powerful "Hunger for the Great Light." At times, I'm amazed at just how big a sound the Dave Matthews Band can produce on the stage; this definitely was one of those moments. It sounded like a whole army of musicians were onstage during "Hunger for the Great Light," not just seven guys unbelievably locked into one mighty groove.
Again making a U-turn, the group hit the crowd with a gentle take on "Loving Wings," perhaps the best ballad currently in its rotation. Matthews' singing was touchingly gentle, perfectly complemented by Moore's gorgeous lead on soprano saxophone.
The main set drew to a close with sensational renditions of "Dancing Nancies" and "Two Step," true fan favorites. Randolph was back onstage to help close out the set with "Two Step."
Many people have commented that the Dave Matthews Band really doesn't belong in the jam-band category, a place where it is often lumped. I'd agree with them. Still, the band can jam when it wants to — and that's what it did with glorious results on "Two Step."
The show ended with a three-song encore that kicked off with Matthew's solo performance of the new ballad "Sister" and continued with revved-up takes on "Everyday" and "Stay (Wasting Time)."
"Makes you want to stay," Matthews sang as he finished up a great night of music, "don't it?"
Why, yes, Dave, it does.