By Ryan O'Malley, Weekender Correspondent
Since making its Scranton debut in the summer of 2005, the Dave Matthews Band has made the mountain a staple on its yearly summer tour. While many changes have occurred over the last eight years – including the loss of a band member – the outfit continues to draw one of the biggest crowds of the season. Last Wednesday, the band returned for what was billed as the “first major show of the summer,” and once again, DMB's rabid fan base had an early summer party.
Beginning the night around 7:15 p.m., veteran jam band favorites moe. brought a funky 45-minute, five-song set which had people up and dancing, serving as the perfect act to start the night's festivities. Going on 25 years, the band veered away from any of its more recognizable numbers and delved into some deeper cuts like “Blue Jeans Pizza,” highlighted by some fine guitar from Al Schnier. Following a quick run through “Buster,” moe. gave a nod to Scranton by performing the theme song – verbatim – to “The Office” before leaving the stage for DMB, whose fans were already packed into their seats.
Kicking off the night around 8:25, the band opened with an energetic take on the crowd favorite “Warehouse” from 1994's “Under the Table and Dreaming,” which showcased some fine brass work from Jeff Coffin and Rashawn Ross. “The Idea of You,” which has never been officially released on a DMB album, was a fitting segue into “Rooftop,” one of the more lively cuts from its latest offering, 2012's “Away from the World.”
The rest of the first half of the show featured an extended take on “One Sweet World,” complete with what seems like a never-ending brass riff, a dip back into the “Crash” album for a tight “#41” with some exquisite guitar work from longtime collaborator Tim Reynolds, and an ode to late member LeRoi Moore with a funky “Why I Am.”
Matthews, who seemed to be in a quirky mood, told a story of being asked by one of his friends how Scranton was as a venue, with Matthews answering about how the pavilion is covered by “a big stretch of plastic or rubber” on the ceiling, much to the delight of the near-capacity crowd. Getting back to the music, the band let loose with “Belly Belly Nice,” a fan favorite from its latest release, following up with “Sleep to Dream Her” from 2001's “Everyday” album, which hasn't been played since September 2010. Another song returning to DMB's fold, the driving “Hunger for the Great Light” from 2005's “Stand Up” album resurfaced for the first time since September 2007.
Something that seems to have become a standard for most shows over the last two years, “Grey Street,” was a welcome treat for the night before leading into another cut from 2002's “Busted Stuff,” a tender “Where Are You Going.” A drawn-out “Squirm,” showcasing some of the fine drumming of Carter Beauford, led into a mellow “You Might Die Trying.”
One of more crowd-friendly selections of the night, “JTR,” blended into a track from its debut album, which Matthews swore the band was “done playing,” a pleasing “Jimi Thing,” including an ending reprise of Prince's “Sexy MF.” Ending the set proper was an upbeat song which seems to have become a staple since its 2009 release, “Shake Me like a Monkey,” leaving the crowd eagerly anticipating the encore.
Keeping the crowd in an upbeat mood, the band managed to knock the energy level down a bit with a very soft and mellow “Sister” before continuing the somber feel of the encore with “Drunken Soldier” from its latest effort and also a staple of nearly every show of the last year. Thankfully, the band picked back up with the final song of the night, a standard run through the longtime crowd favorite “What Would You Say.”
Aside from the encore, the May 29 show provided the perfect kickoff to the 2013 Summer Concert Series and also continued Dave Matthews Band's tradition of never performing the same show twice. Since 2005, the band's Scranton appearances have become a yearly destination for everyone from this area, and if Wednesday's show was any indication, next year can only be better.