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Dave Matthews Band played through the rain at the New Orleans Jazz Fest

By Keith Spera, | The Times-Picayune 

Photo by Kathleen Flynn, / The Times-Picayune

Photo by Kathleen Flynn, / The Times-Picayune

Dave Matthews is the Billy Joel of the 2013 New Orleans Jazz Fest. In 2008, a sopping wet Joel played through a storm at the Fair Grounds. On Saturday, Joel stayed dry, save a copious amount of sweat. But on Sunday, it was Matthews' turn to get drenched.

Early on in the Dave Matthews Band's closing Acura Stage set, the leader's dark shirt was so wet it glistened like the trash bags many in the audience stuffed themselves into in a futile attempt to stay dry.

Something happens when the rains fall at Jazz Fest. At first, it is an inconvenience to work around. But if the rain persists - and especially if it downpours to the absurd degree it did early and late on Sunday - it becomes, for many, part of the experience. Something to endure. Something to celebrate. Something to defy. And something to talk about for years to come, provided the band you've persevered to see rises to the occasion.

Matthews and company did.

After the 2008 death of founding saxophonist LeRoi Moore, Matthews expanded the band. He doubled the size of the horn section to include saxophonist Jeff Coffin and trumpeter Rashawn Ross. Guitarist Tim Reynolds, a longtime friend and frequent collaborator, was promoted to permanent status.

That unit is even tighter than it was at the 2009 Jazz Fest. For the final hour, they played with purpose, passing around solos, locking into grooves. Violinist Boyd Tinsley squared off with Matthews several times. They slipped into funk-soul mode for a refrain of "sexy m---f----, shake that ass!"

Some of the mental circuitry was soggy. Matthews misidentified Ross as a saxophonist. After correcting his mistake, he fell back on his preferred self-mocking humor, and introduced every other member of the band as a saxophonist.

He swapped out his usual acoustic guitar for an electric so he and Reynolds could repeat a tandem five-note figure. It became "Louisiana Bayou," a deep cut from the band's 2005 album "Stand Up." They dug into the tale of bad times on the bayou, the darkening sky providing an appropriately grim backdrop.

At the conclusion of "Louisiana Bayou," the rain returned with a vengeance. Without pause, drummer Carter Beauford commenced striking his snare at regular intervals. After several such strikes, Tinsley chimed in with a fiddle stroke. The pieces started to sound familiar. And then they blossomed into "Ants Marching," the most beloved of the early DMB anthems.

It was exactly the right rallying cry for the drenched audience. A cheer went up; dancing commenced in earnest. In the mud. In the rain. Didn't matter. The dancing was undeterred, unrestrained, unhinged. Audiences in New Orleans know a thing or two about dancing in defiance of the elements.

The band delivered on the promise of "Ants Marching," pushing it even harder than the rain. When it finally ended, thunder cracked and lightning flashed as if on cue.

The message was clear: Time to go home.

Some held out hope for an encore, but the lightning dictated otherwise. Matthews et al returned for a final bow as Jazz Fest producer/director Quint Davis declared this "the bravest band and the bravest audience in America."

They were certainly the soggiest.