Review by Tim Mack
Maybe you saw the Fire Dancer stickers on the SUVs rolling north on I-87 last Friday afternoon. If not, the traffic backed up and down Route 50 and Route 9 would have clued you in. “Ah, of course. Dave.”
And like the swallows returning to Capistrano, the Dave Matthews Band and tens of thousands of passionate followers gathered once again in Saratoga Springs last weekend to mark the unofficial start of summer. Roll your eyes if you must (as The Syracuse Post-Standard did last week), but this is still a massive cultural engine that steams its way into town each year, and there’s a reason this group sells 50,000 tickets for a weekend at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. They’ve still got it.
This year’s tour is billed as “A Very Special Evening With Dave Matthews Band”: One acoustic set, one electric. It’s understandable that after two-plus decades on the road, Dave and the boys want to mix it up, and given the success Matthews and collaborator Tim Reynolds have had as an acoustic duo, it makes sense to let the rest of the band in on the act.
But first, it was a smiling Dave walking alone on stage with Procol Harum. Before launching into solo 12-string cover of “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” he cautioned the audience against his rust, saying with a wink that anything sounding like a mistake was being done on purpose. Soon enough the rest of the band joined him for “Two Step,” and the crowd was with them in full voice: Carter Beauford (drums), Boyd Tinsley (violin), Stefan Lessard (bass), Reynolds (guitar), Jeff Coffin (saxophone) and Rashawn Ross (trumpet, backing vocals), all clearly enjoying themselves.
The acoustic set was full of imaginative playing and clever song selection, such as the Rodriguez cover “Sugar Man.” Matthews has long had the most animated eyebrows in rock, and Beauford always looks like he’s having as much fun as anyone in the building. They both enjoyed a kinetic rip through “What Would You Say?” as Coffin filled the John Popper harmonica line with an absolutely crushing flute solo that was enough to make Ron Burgundy blush.
Quite frankly, the eight-song acoustic opener – a mix of covers, oldies and hits – would have been enough to make it a restaurant-quality evening for all parties. But after a 30-minute intermission, the band came back, plugged in, turned on the laser lights, cranked up the fog machine, and simply erupted. The second set opener, “Don’t Drink the Water,” was enough to shake the concrete in the balcony. Powering through the first hour, they pulled from all corners of their catalogue: “American Baby,” “#27,” “Belly Belly Nice,” and “Lie in Our Graves.” And if you’re wondering if 25,000 people know the all the words to the deep cuts, it turns out they do.
It would be tough to find fault with this night’s dynamic hit-heavy set-list. Seven songs off of “Crash?”
That’s exactly what many in this crowd wanted to hear. By the time Dave hit “Grey Street” to close out the second set, the band and the audience should have been running out of steam, but of course the opposite was true. Only a two-song encore? This crowd wanted more! And if they were lucky enough to have tickets to Saturday’s show, they got it.
Bryan Lasky’s review and photographs at Upstate Live
Shannon Fromma’s review at The Times Union
Cindy Schultz’s photographs at The Times Union
Molly Eadie’s review and Erica Miller’s photographs at The Saratogian
Excerpt from Kirsten Ferguson’s review at The Daily Gazette: “The frenzied, horn-fueled shuffle of ‘Two Step’ kicked off the night’s celebratory feel. ‘Stolen Away on 55th & 3rd’ was quieter and almost got swallowed up by fan chatter before trumpeter Rashawn Ross blew an evocative horn solo that drew cheers. The instantly recognizable strains of ‘What Would You Say’ got fans back on their feet. And before a cover of Sixto Rodriguez’s ‘Sugar Man,’ Matthews recounted the story of the obscure Detroit musician little known in the U.S. but idolized in Matthews’ native South Africa. It may have been billed as an acoustic set, but there was no shortage of energy. Violinist Boyd Tinsley nearly dropped his bow because he played so violently on the rousing, polyrhythmic ‘Tripping Billies.’ After the loose, anything-goes feel of the first set, the band returned after a 30-minute intermission. A black curtain lifted to reveal flashing lights, a video screen and a full-fledged Dave Matthews Band arena show, offering full-electric force, bombastic solos and massive crowd sing-alongs to fan favorites like ‘Don’t Drink the Water,’ ‘American Baby,’ ‘Belly Belly Nice’ and ‘Lie in Our Graves’ — capped by a blistering encore of Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along the Watchtower.’ It was exactly what the fans on the lawn and in the amphitheater had been waiting for. But surprisingly, it was also hard to beat the feeling that the acoustic set held the night’s most unexpected rewards.”
THE DAVE MATTHEWS BAND SET LIST
A Whiter Shade of Pale (Dave solo) (Procol Harum)
Stolen Away On 55th & 3rd
What Would You Say
I’ll Back You Up (just Carter, Dave, Stefan and Tim)
Sugar Man (Rodriguez)
Stay (Wasting Time)
Don’t Drink the Water
Belly Belly Nice
Lie in Our Graves
So Much to Say
Anyone Seen the Bridge
The Space Between
All Along The Watchtower (Bob Dylan)