July 6th, 2008
by Troy Reimink | The Grand Rapids Press
There's no question that for three hours, Dave Matthews was king of Rothbury. His was the first major set to stand alone at the festival. All stages remained silent in his honor, and all 40,000 peasants in the kingdom gathered to rejoice.
Well, not peasants exactly, but after three days and not many very many showers, it's beginning to smell that way.
Good old Dave, with music as hard to dislike as it is easy to like, and even easier to not muster strong feelings about whatsoever. But that's just me. Dave's band is, of course, endlessly proficient (especially with Tim Reynolds joining him on guitar), and he's done as much as anyone to bridge the occasionally incongruous worlds of jam culture and popular rock.
So in that capacity, he's a perfectly suitable choice as Rothbury's inaugural headliner. Something almost everyone can agree on. Bets do not get safer.
Dave's marathon set was normal by his standards. Or maybe it wasn't, what do I know? If I closed my eyes and imagined what a normal Dave Matthews set sounded like, it would be exactly like the one he played at Rothbury. Which is to say loose and improvisational, with a set list that provided concessions to hardcore fans, as well as the rest of us.
The recent news that LeRoi Moore, Dave's longtime sax player, was seriously injured in an ATV crash led to a bit of uncertainty about the show, but with a fill-in as high-caliber as Jeff Coffin (of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones), there was obviously nothing to worry about.
"Seek Up" opened the show. "Satellite" came fairly early on. Ah, "Satellite," with that sneaky little riff that every college guy with an acoustic guitar can play in his sleep. I was that dude once. Tried it on the ladies. Didn't work.
There was also "Tripping Billies." And "Jimi Thing," jammed out ceaselessly into the night. And a cover of Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer." Good stuff, all of it executed flawlessly. "So Much to Say" and "Ants Marching" rounded out the greatest-hits portion of the night. Not surprisingly, the set emphasized his poppier, more fully arranged songs that lended themselves better to the big-band treatment, though this meant the more interesting portions of his catalog were ignored (like the bulk of "Before These Crowded Streets," my vote for his best record).
No "Crash Into Me," however. Sorry, guys, but if you've made it this far into Rothbury without getting any love, not even Dave Matthews can help you.
So there you have it, the biggest show of the biggest event on Michigan's summer entertainment calendar. From here we coast through Sunday and, after that, into a hot shower.