Dave Matthews Band with the Carolina Chocolate Drops @ Riverbend, May 29
In a society that discards and disregards anything popular faster than expired dairy products, the staying power and popularity of Dave Matthews is remarkable and well earned. One of the saddest aspects of internet reviews is to talk down on the popular, to appear above the rabble and shower disdain on your subject matter. I have read dozens of reviews on Dave Matthews making fun of his supposed blandness, his fans and his place as a “Gateway” act, as if you need to move past his brand of happy, energetic music to be accepted into the realms of higher fandom. Yet, night in and night out, Dave Matthews and his stellar band play to sold out shows packed with smiling faces and sing-a-long voices, having the time of their lives.
[All DMB Photos by Rex Thomson]
The fans themselves don’t care what these elitist writers and listeners say, they just wanna hear Ants Marching. They don’t care if you listened to Dave a year ago and have moved past his sound, they care that it makes them happy, and that’s all Matthews is shooting for as well. Over the years he has not only delighted millions of fans, he has introduced his audience to hundreds of supporting acts, helping far more artists than I could easily name. On this night in Cincinnati, he brought the Carolina Chocolate Drops along and let them have a solid 45 minutes to share their old timey Americana/Roots style with the 15,ooo attendees. The CCD combine an earthy, authentic blend of styles, from ragtime, to spirituls, proto jazz and smiling soul that charms and entertains all at once. Mixing a variety of instruments, from cello, violin, guitar, drums and more, the trio from the Carolina mountains bring a humanity and humor to music that seems old as the hills and fresh at the same time.
[Photo by Joshua Timmermans]
With a spirited and soulful lead in like the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Matthews had the deck fully stacked in his favor. The Riverbend Music Center is set inside an amusement park, along the banks of the Ohio River. Motor boats enjoyed the smooth waters, and the skies were blue and stretched as far as the eyes could see. Many musicians would give all they had to walk out on a stage with as much positive energy and love waiting for them as Matthews does nightly, and you can clearly see his humbleness and appreciation. Walking to the front of the stage to peer out to the thousands of faces smiling and cheering back to him, a slight nod to himself as he picked up a guitar and with a look to his band launched into Sweet.
His band has held fast to a main core, with one tragic loss. Besides the remaining four originals, the band has three touring members, including most recent addition Jeff Coffin on saxophone and flute, covering the needed color brought by the wind instruments. Boyd Tinsley cut throgh the guitar based jams with a lean violin sond that was sharp but complementary to the material. Guitarist Tim Reynolds found opportunities to rip lines and solos, and added a bit of the “Guitar Hero” flash that brings the rockier tunes to a climax, while drumer Carter Beauford showed a range of precise, intuitive styles of playing, always making his parts the basis for the rest to work from. But as always with any show from this band, the true burden of connecting with and entertaining the crowd fell squarely on Matthews himself.
One of the most well-known faces in rock and roll, Matthews spent the entire show either smiling or appearing to fight a smile. And who could blame him? Having walked an epic road to world wide stardom, Dave Matthews has done almost everything you could ever hope for, worked with legends and done it all without a sad, “Fall From Grace” moment of debauchery or moral lapse so many of his famous brethren have lapsed into. Following a rolicking version of the band’s Tripping Billies, Dave laid out a solo number, a breathy cover of Whiter Shade Of Pale. Every man on stage took a moment to shine, including a thunderous solo by bassist Stefan Lessard, which led into the last song of the night, a wild version of All Along The Watchtower, the oft covered Dylan tune. Lesser bands would have either given a Hendrix styled reading, or simply turned it into a simple rave up. The DMB, however, treated the song with respect, and rose and fell like the tides, hushing down in the lyrics before rising sharply to a wild conclusion that left the audience crying out for more.
With a humble smile and wave Dave retired the stage, another in a near endless string of sold out shows under his belt. But there was no jadedness in his eyes, no sad relief at a job done, but a wild spark of light, as if he was fighting the urge, the urge to do just one more. So no matter how many times Saturday Night Live or anyone else chooses to parody Matthews, or deride the perceived simplicity of his music, the crowd knows, as do I, that there is a fire that burns inside him still.
Set: Sweet , You Never Know, You Might Die Trying, Rhyme & Reason, Granny, Why I Am, #41, Seven, Mercy, Tripping Billies, A Whiter Shade of Pale (Procol Harum cover) (Dave solo), Gaucho, Jimi Thing, What Would You Say, Time Bomb, Two Step
Encore: Squirm, Stefan solo ,All Along The Watchtower (Bob Dylan cover)
Here’s a full gallery of Rex’s photos from DMB at Riverbend and a few Carolina Chocolate Drops shots from Joshua Timmermans…