September 27th, 2007
A lot of the Dave Matthews Band goes a long way – three hours long if you were at Irvine's Verizon Wireless Amphitheater for an almost-sold out show on Wednesday night.
And from the ecstatic reactions of the fans, that's a good thing. Maybe not even enough of a good thing, judging by the two young women standing nearby who shouted in vain all night for Dave to play "Two Step."
So the tricky thing to figure becomes this: If 15,000 fans are having such a great time, why didn't this show move me as much as it seemed to be moving so many others?
After all, there are plenty of things to like about Dave Matthews and Co. Matthews' voice is earnestly soulful; the band – especially drummer Carter Beauford – is tight.
Many of the songs are catchy, and on CD, they go down easy, nice jammy slices of blues and rock with world-beat influences. In concert, though – and this no doubt is a matter of personal taste – they mostly go on.
The band hit the stage promptly at 8:15 p.m. Twenty minutes later they finished the opening song, "Dreaming Tree," a slow, moody number that, depending on your point of view, either set a nice mellow tone for the evening or left you looking at your watch to see if it could really be lasting as long as it did.
From there, though, the energy level quickly rose. "Everyday," with its catchy chorus and plaintive plea for love, was an affecting number that featured – as many DMB songs do – a fine solo by violinist Boyd Tinsley.
"Say Goodbye" followed that, and if you could overlook the four-minute drum solo that started it off, it made a fine bookend, both musically and thematically, with the song that preceded it.
"Cornbread" brought out the swampy blues feel that "Louisiana Bayou" revisited later in the show, and with the band rocking harder, most in the crowd stayed on their feet, some dancing like Deadheads, most of us just doing that leg-popping, head-bobbing groove move you see at concerts like this.
Softer songs like "Fool to Think" and "Where Are You Going?" stayed true to the other main mood of the night – lost love, unrequited love, mellow vibes and stretched-out versions of songs that aren't all that short on record.
Halfway into the show, things peaked when Dave and the band played "Crush," a jazz-inflected number that builds from slinky mood in the verses to a sweet melodic hook when Matthews sings the chorus: "Am I right side up or upside down/Is this real, oh Lord, or am I dreaming?"
I jotted down a note during the first few minutes of this song – a favorite for the night – that points to the problem non-members of the DMB cult might have with a show like this: This melody and hook were so strong that you didn't mind the violin solo that stretched it out, I reckoned.
When "Crush" ended after 15 minutes, I was ready to scratch that premature conclusion out of my notebook.
The second half of the show dipped back into laid-back land – a slow new song that seems to be titled "A Dream So Real" followed by "Dream Girl" – then picked up steam for the final numbers.
"Grace is Gone" came across a countryish my-baby-left-me-so-I'll-just-drink number and then segued into the Doobie Brothers' oldie "Black Water." Guest guitarist David Ryan Harris popped out next to jam on "Jimi Thing," another 20-minute rocker.
"Grey Street" and "Stay (Wasting Time) " brought us to an encore of "Sister" and "Tripping Billies," and just like that the night was over – lots of great musicianship that thrilled the masses but perhaps left the uninitiated not entirely converted.
Still, there was one last note I came across when finishing this review early this morning: There are far worse things than to sit outside listening to live music beneath a harvest moon on a cool fall night.
Of course, I suppose I could have just as easily listened to Dave Matthews Band CDs under the moonlight on my patio, the distant murmur of cars on the freeway serving as backing vocalists, and more easily hit the skip button on the remote when the songs ran too long.
Though if I'd done that I'd have missed the unpredictable alchemy of live music, both that of Dave Matthews and his opening act, Stephen Marley.
The son of reggae legend Bob Marley played an enjoyable 45-minute set of mostly old-school reggae, more than half his songs covers of his father's classics. But when you've got such strong songs in your family album, why not?
Marley's performances were almost eerie in their resemblance – both in sound and look – of those of his late father. And when you can hear wonderful classics such as "Three Little Birds," "Buffalo Soldiers" and "Could You Be Loved?" it's a good night out.