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Mellow Start, Then Matthews Breezes

July 29th, 2006


The Dave Matthews Band and the huge audiences it draws have been centerpieces of the Dodge Music Center summer calendar each year since the facility opened, and the current season is no exception. Friday night, the band opened its two-night stand at the venue with a generally crowd-pleasing array of comfortably accessible jam tunes, powering through some portions of its program and wandering through free-flowing jams in others.

Matthews may be the most lionized rhythm guitarist ever to take a stage, and he incited his enthusiastic audience to roaring from the moment he eased into strumming the opening signature of "One Sweet World." The six-piece troupe behind him set a mellow pace drizzled by the soprano saxophone of LeRoi Moore for "Proudest Monkey," while Matthews inserted nonchalant drama into the tune with his soft-pedaled growl.

After a restrained breeze through "Satellite" in front of a subdued set relative to the group's past standards, the stage's large curtains dropped to reveal an array of video screens, which signaled a kick start to the performance. An ensuing trip through the jaunty "Grey Street" lit the evening's fuse and propelled more than 20 thousand heads into celebratory bobbing. Similar dance-friendly energy spilled from the robust, insistent "What Would You Say," during which Matthews wrested texture out of his acoustic guitar and Stefan Lessard chipped in with a shifty bass line.

There was frequently a perceptible difference between tunes from early in the band's career and its more recent material, and not merely in how the crowd reacted to each. The buoyant "Pig" was agreeably loose as fiddler Boyd Tinsley wriggled his sawing around its edges en route to a booming crescendo, while more recent material such as "American Baby" frequently came with less flexibility in its slick delivery.

The band was not concerned about putting on a regimented program, taking its time whether between songs or digging into grooves. Keyboard player Butch Taylor stretched out the soaring, gritty "Bartender" as Moore's baritone saxophone bleated alongside its melody, and Matthews poked around in bluesy fashion.

The swaying, lightly percussive "Sleep to Dream Her" ratcheted down the show's vibe, and when guitarist Eric Krasno from opener Soulive came out to lead a drifting trip through "Smooth Rider," the show descended into a protracted period of low-energy noodling. All was soon forgiven, however, when the audience snapped back to attention and the show leapt to its finish with a limber, ebullient rendition of the very popular "Ants Marching." After a lengthy wait, the group returned for an encore spearheaded by the springy "Everyday," then closed up shop for the evening with "Stay."

The Dave Matthews Band performs tonight at the Dodge Music Center. The show is sold out.