Review of 6/9/12 show by Janet Kwiatkowski
Photographs of 6/8/12 show by Bob Cohen
Picking up their summer tradition where they left off following last year’s hiatus, the Dave Matthews Band returned to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs for two sold-out performances last weekend. The DMB has built a solid and legendary relationship with SPAC and expressed their love for the venue in the Sam Erickson documentary “Hello Again: Part 2,” in which Matthews conveyed that they “love the whole vibe, the sound, the scenery” and they can “stretch out and be more experimental here than at other venue.”
The throngs were up for some serious pre-show partying, and the majority have made it an annual two-night event. Just about everyone I spoke with had well over a hundred DMB shows under their belt and were treading well-tilled ground at SPAC. Dave Matthews has also collaborated on a California wine called fittingly “The Dreaming Tree,” which was served throughout the venue.
Lettuce was opening for the DMB for the first time at SPAC, but they’re certainly no strangers, several members of Lettuce having sat in with the band over the past decade. Lettuce member Nigel Hall played the previous night with his band at Putnam Den in downtown Saratoga, so it was almost a given he would show up. Full-time DMB trumpet player Rashawn Ross is also a member of Lettuce and played full sets with both bands. Dave Matthews has stated he “likes to surround himself with the best players possible,” and Lettuce had no problem winning over fans with their powerhouse of funk.
Along with songs from previous albums “Rage!” and “Outta Here,” Lettuce debuted the song “Fly,” from their new album of the same name. DMB guitarist Tim Reynolds stepped in for one song, and Nigel Hall came on to sing “Bustin Loose.” Lettuce consists of guitarists Eric Krasno and Adam Smirnoff, bassist Erick Coomes, keyboard player Neal Evans and drummer Adam Deitch. Lettuce’s horn section, known as the Shady Horns, features Ryan Zoidis and James Casey on saxophones with Rashawn Ross and Eric Bloom on trumpets.
Everything about the Dave Matthews Band is oversized – the set, the sound and especially the number of loyal fans. Looking out over the tightly packed crowd of very happy faces, many in their 60s and 70s, they sang out every word to every song with a rabid fervor and an outstretched fist.
The majority of songs were older and were less recognizable than the mainstream radio hits, which made the show all the more appreciated by their followers, who were up for anything the band was throwing their way, drawing mostly from the albums “Stand Up,” “Before These Crowded Streets,” “Crash” and “Under the Table and Dreaming.”
The DMB started with “Eh Hee” and “You Might Die Trying” under large, pyramid-shaped screens projecting spectacular graphics and close-ups of the band. The graphics were especially effective during the menacing song “Squirm” (with a screen full of creepy, rapidly moving eyeballs) and the cartoonish characterizations of excess for “Too Much.”
At nearly three straight hours of music, Matthews stated at one point, “I don’t have any stories to tell tonight,” strumming his main weapon of choice – an acoustic guitar. He sings, struts and plays with an intensity that is rarely matched. His voice can rise to a lovely falsetto and just as easily drop to a gritty growl.
Saxman Jeff Coffin (formerly of Bela Fleck & the Flecktones and a budding rock photographer) has comfortably found his place with the band and added some slow burning solos during “The Stone.” Concert highlight “Crush” began with a slow intro by bassist Stefan Lessard and culminated with violinist Boyd Tinsley and Matthews circling each other like predators sizing each other up and sawing away at their instruments.
Tim Reynolds hung back with less solo work, allowing drummer Carter Beauford and Rashawn Ross to shine during “Spaceman.” As the night built up with freewheeling jams, Eric Krasno kept it locked up tight when he joined in on “Rhyme and Reason.” Riding on the momentum, the Shady Horns came out one by one, and pounced on a monster take of “Jimi Thing.” Like adding gasoline to a fire, Nigel Hall and the Shady Horns wailed to “Stay (Wasting Time)” and sent the place into total chaos. I heard a collective, “Who is that guy!?”
After a short encore break, Dave Matthews introduced the song “Gaucho” from the new album due out in September. With a stand-out solo by Reynolds, the song is an environmental plea with the lyric, “Please wake up, we can do anything under the stars,” referring to using our ingenuity to turn things around to help ourselves and the planet.
THE DAVE MATTHEWS BAND SET LIST
You Might Die Trying
Everybody Wake Up (Our Finest Hour Arrives)
Pantala Naga Pampa
So Much to Say
Has Anyone Seen the Bridge
Rhyme and Reason
Stay (Wasting Time)