Full dislosure: I am a little bit older than the average college student. I am actually 23. Okay, 28. Fine, I am 34, alright? And for 17 of those years I have been a fan of Dave Matthews Band, specifically its first four albums. The band’s music was the soundtrack to my senior year of high school and my first taste of being an adult. I have seen it live more times than I can count. And yet, as you sometimes do with important people in your life, I lost touch with DMB.
When the opportunity to review the band’s show Friday Night at the Nationwide Arena came up, I figured it was the perfect time to revisit my old friends.
Without an opening act, the set started around 8:30 p.m. I was a bit surprised by the early start time, but chalked it up to the fact that Matthews and I have both aged 12 years since we last saw each other, and he was likely as excited about an early bedtime as I was.
I was terribly wrong.
The band played for almost three hours with the only breaks being the couple of minutes it would sometimes take between songs, seemingly deciding what to play next.
During the second song, “Mercy,” Matthews played piano. Usually only playing an acoustic or electric guitar, this was definitely a change from the norm. And while the performance was perfectly pleasant, it felt as though the crowd was deflating.
Picking it back up a bit with, “You Might Die Trying”, Matthews showed he still possesses the same fancy footwork while cementing the band’s status as a “jam band”. Either you are into that type of music, or you’re not. I used to be heavily into that music, but it turns out now I am not. I often found myself wishing they would hurry up and get to the next song. Part of feeling this way I am blaming on the venue.
I have to admit that I was more than a little disappointed with the choice of venue. Nationwide Arena has an almost claustrophobic feel to it, even though it has 18,000 seats. Most acts that I’ve seen at Nationwide are swallowed whole by the surroundings; unable to make the connection with their audience. There were definitely times during last night’s show where I could feel the disconnect, especially during the lengthier jam sessions and more somber song choices like “Death on the High Seas”, where Matthews played piano once again.
By the middle of the show the energy picked back up beginning with bass player Stefan Lessard plucking the intro to “Crush”, a fan favorite and one that I had never heard live. The band played it to perfection and the song retained the same dreaminess as the recorded version. I was just as delighted to hear “ #41”. Even though I had heard that one live more than once before, it is my No. 1 jukebox pick to this day.
The band more than kept the crowd’s attention while playing several of their well-known hits, such as “Satellite,” “Crash,” and “Grey Street.” Songs like “Don’t Drink the Water” and “Too Much” were nice additions to the setlist, especially given their subjects and sentiments.
Towards the end of the show, DMB launched into “Jimi Thing,” which would have been great on its own, but the band went five steps further by smoothly connecting a brief cover of Prince’s, “Sexy M.F.” at the end of the song. DMB has a lot of material, so covers are rarely– if ever– included, but it was nice to get the added bonus of a small tribute to one of the best musicians that ever lived. Choosing “The Space Between” as an encore was a little disappointing, only because I would have rather heard something more upbeat like “Ants Marching”, which is always fun to hear live. But the band brought the energy back up with “Rapunzel,” the last song of the night.
Dave Matthews Band puts on a fantastic live show. Even when the band played songs that I wasn’t familiar with, I enjoyed the performance. This is a band that has played together for thirty years. The members are comfortable onstage and extremely talented musicians. It is fun to see all of the elements– brass, wind, strings and percussion– combine together to make beautiful music that sticks with you for days.
I may have lost touch with Dave Matthews Band over the years, but last night proved to me that like all true friends, you can always go back and visit to reminisce on good times and even create new memories.