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Dave Matthews Band sharp at Shoreline

September 9th, 2006

GROUP SOUNDING, PLAYING BETTER THAN EVER

By Jim Harrington MediaNews

It's odd to think of a two-night stand at Shoreline Amphitheatre asdownsizing for a rock act.

Yet, that's exactly what it was for the Dave Matthews Band when itvisited the 22,000-capacity Mountain View venue on this past Fridayand Saturday nights. That's because the last two times through theBay Area DMB performed at even bigger venues -- drawing some 50,000fans to a free show at Golden Gate Park in 2004 and then performingtwo nights at AT&T Park last year.

Equally odd was that one could see green on the Shoreline lawn --enough green to build a few new duplexes -- as the band took the stageon Friday. That was not only a sign of DMB's dip in popularity as alive act, especially from a few years back when it could sell outmultiple nights at football stadiums, but a clear example of thegeneral downturn in overall concert attendance. Even the biggest actsin the concert industry, of which DMB certainly qualifies as one, arehaving a hard time filling places like Shoreline to capacity.

Issues of popularity aside, the Dave Matthews Band is currentlysounding and playing better than at any other time during its 17-yearcareer. Grab a recording of Friday's show -- which shouldn't be hardto find, since DMB still allows fans to tape its concerts -- and thencompare it to, say, the band's ``Live Trax Vol. 4,'' which chronicles a1996 concert in Virginia. You might have a hard time believing thatboth sets come from the same band -- the sound is now so much fullerand the songs are vastly more powerful than 10 years ago.

That's what, ideally, is supposed to happen to a group: It's supposedto get better. That hasn't happened with most bands that first madeit big in the early '90s. Yet, DMB has continually found new ways toimprove its game in the live arena.

Following an opening set by pedal-steel guitar guru Robert Randolphand his Family Band, Matthews and his sidemen -- bassist StefanLessard, saxophonist Leroi Moore, violinist Boyd Tinsley, drummerCarter Beauford, keyboardist Butch Taylor and guest trumpeter RashawnRoss -- took the stage in a decidedly casual fashion. Dressed in asimple hooded sweatshirt and worn blue jeans, the vocalist-guitariststrolled to the front of the stage and applauded the crowd. The fansreturned the gesture a thousandfold.

Although DMB's fan base isn't as large as it was earlier in thedecade, it remains one of the most passionate in all of rock 'n'roll. Take, for instance, Tracey Borowski of Newport Beach, who wasexperiencing her seventh DMB show in two weeks on Friday night.

``I'm a real fan,'' Borowski said.

The crowd was full of real fans, who seemingly knew every word toevery song and sang along with gusto as the band opened the show witha mellow, friendly version of ``Everyday'' and then cranked up theintensity for ``Big Eyed Fish.''

The group sounded great -- led, as per usual, by Beauford, whocontinues to make the case that he deserves to be ranked among thefinest drummers in rock history.

As the band moved through sensational versions of ``Bartender'' and ``IfI Had It All,'' it was easy to see how a drum junkie would come to DMBjust to watch Beauford play, much like how a guitar freak would gosee Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to stare at Mike Campbell.Eschewing all of the over-the-top theatrics that one normallyassociates with A-list rock drummers -- hello, Tommy Lee! -- Beaufordalways finds a way to shine within the framework of each song. He'sthe kind of drummer that a jazz cat would appreciate.

Matthews proved to be a very versatile singer on this night. Heshowed an amazing degree of sensitivity as he cradled such gentleballads as ``Loving Wings'' and ``Stolen Away On 55th and 3rd.'' Then,like some switch was flipped on, he sang like a madman just escapedfrom an institution as he brought tangible drama and passion to``Bartender'' and ``Hunger for the Great Light,'' which might be the bestsong currently in the band's rotation.

The singer ranks as one of the greatest screamers in rock, followingin the fabled footprints of the likes of Roger Daltrey and JanisJoplin, and fans simply can't get enough of it.

``I love it when he screams at us. I think that's the hottest thing.It turns me on,'' said Borowski, who works as a professional dogwalker when she's not following DMB around the country. ``I don't needa boyfriend when I have him singing to me.''

Following big versions of the fan favorites ``Dancing Nancies'' and``What Would You Say,'' Matthews invited Randolph back to the stage andthe pedal-steel great helped the band close the main set with asmoking version of ``Louisiana Bayou.'' DMB would return for a stellartwo-song encore of ``So Right'' and ``Stay (Wasting Time).''

When it was all said and done, the band had been on stage for nearlythree hours. Yet, it felt much shorter than that and the crowd wasleft wanting even more. Bet that a good portion of these fans wouldbe back on Saturday night for another dose of the Dave Matthews Band.

And, really, who can blame them?

 

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