September 7th, 2007
By Ralph Berrier Jr.
BLACKSBURG -- So why was Bill O'Reilly so upset with Phil Vassar? He seems like a nice guy, so I don't get all the fuss over his lyrics.
What's that? Oh, it was Nas who was supposed to be the controversial guy? Well, Vassar, Nassar, whatever. Nobody was going to ruin this night for the Hokie Nation. Nobody was going to spoil this Concert for Virginia Tech.
Spearheaded by longtime Charlottesville resident and jam-band demigod Dave Matthews, the concert was about as chilled-out an affair as you could have with 50,000 of your closest orange and maroon clad buddies at Lane Stadium. From Vassar's just-happy-to-be-here kickoff to Nas and his defiant raps, from John Mayer's astounding blues-soaked set to the Dave Matthews Band's arena-sized singalongs, the concert provided just what a grieving campus needs -- a sense of peace and community.
"The world should be like this all the time," Mayer said during his 50-minute set.
Matthews knows Blacksburg well. He played here frequently in the early 1990s, when the town still had an active local music scene. The Lane Stadium crowd was considerably larger than the throngs that used to squeeze into the South Main Cafe. The three-story stage and giant video screens would never have fit, either.
"A while ago we used to come down in our red van and play all the time," Matthews said. "Holes in the wall."
The set was quintessential Dave -- extended solos, swelling grooves anchored by drummer Carter Beauford and bassist Stefan Lessard, LeRoi Moore's soulful sax, Dave's mumbly vocals and Boyd Tinsley's great rock 'n' roll fiddle. Local boy Butch "The Pride of Shawsville" Taylor played keys and guests Rashawn Ross, Matt Cappy and Lamont Caldwell filled the cool night air with horn blasts.
Matthews stretched out with some new material and dug out a few lesser-known songs ("Hunger for the Great Light") but made sure to play the songs that either launched a million noodle dances or were make-out soundtracks -- "Two Step," "Where Are You Going," "Too Much," "Crash Into Me" and "Crush."
Mayer played the cutesy bubble gum hits -- "No Such Thing," "Why Georgia," etc. -- that made him a favorite among teenage girls and their mothers. Otherwise, he was a guitar monster, showing off a little more of the John Mayer Trio side of his repertoire. The closing bluesy guitar flip-out on "I Don't Need No Doctor" was one of the night's highlights.
Mayer later joined Matthews during the song "#41" (Dave has lots of songs named after numbers), which includes the poignant lyric:
"Why won't you ever be glad
It melts into wonder
I came in praying for you
Why won't you run
In the rain and play
Let the tears splash all over you"
The Lynchburg-born Vassar opened with a four-song set that was supposed to represent the country side of the program, but Vassar's rock-flavored originals draw on Bruce Springsteen more than George Jones. The piano-playing hitmaker hammered away at his best-known songs, such as "Carlene" and "I'm Alright" and he closed with John Lennon's "Imagine."
The hullabaloo over Nas and his potentially inappropriate lyrics fizzled as soon as the rapper took the stage in his maroon "Hokies United" T-shirt. Besides, it would have been difficult to understand what he was rapping, since the cavernous stadium swallowed his rapid-fire flow.
He dedicated a song to "those who don't understand what Nas is about," he shouted from the stage. "Like that chump Bill O'Reilly. I said that chump Bill O'Reilly. This song is for him and haters alike."
He launched into "Hate Me Now," a "rap opera" set to the melody of Carl Orff's famous cantata "Carmina Burana."
That was about as prickly as it got. This was a night when you could listen to Mayer sing "There's no such thing as the real world, just a lie you've got to rise above" and almost believe it.
Click Here for a Photo Galley from the show.