|Photos by Craig Hlavaty|
It has to be hard keeping a musical thing fresh after almost two decades of road-dogging it, playing shows in excess of three hours at each venue for months at a time, all the while nursing the loss of a founding member and brother-in-arms.
But somehow, the Dave Matthews Band pulls it off effortlessly, with nary a hiccup. Just last summer the band lost founding member, saxophonist LeRoi Moore, and filled his void with not one but two musicians, Jeff Coffin and Rashawn Ross. Frequent collaborator and master guitarist Tim Reynolds also looks to be a permanent live fixture as of late. The group has always been made of a five-man nucleus, but now with their evolving soundscape, the stage has become more crowded.
DMB gets a bum rap for being a "jam band," a title that has an awful connotation to those both inside and outside its sphere of influence. This far into the game, it's hard to label what exactly they do, but it can't be called "jam." As limitless and expansive the bands who get stuck in that genre may be, folks like String Cheese Incident, O.A.R. and Dispatch cannot hold a flickering lighter up to what the DMB does each night.
True, they stretch out songs to 10-minute increments and the folks in the crowd dance like they are being electrocuted in slow-motion. And yes, there is an amount of illicit drug use going down on the venue's storied lawn. But dwelling on this just discounts the raw professionalism that comes from the stage because some kids want to get loose in between college finals.
The band is a champion thoroughbred, muscled-up and disciplined, yet somehow the exhibition has grown so fluid, it's even difficult for a casual fan to notice. The emotional connection the DMB has with its followers is hard to quantify. Its live shows are not the hit parades that other bands are wont to do, trotting out audience-approved warhorses to lull listeners into a T-shirt buying frenzy.
Even if you may know a song from a studio album, by the time the band is done with it, they may have eviscerated it to where it's nearly unrecognizable. Friday, when they interpolated Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" into the outro of opening salvo "Don't Drink the Water." The crowd can hear every change and manipulation in every song, shouting their approval with an almost unnerving quickness, even if most of them were stoned out of their gourds since opener the Avett Brothers left the stage.
New material was the order of the night Friday, as the band ramps up its promotion for the Moore-mourning wake that forthcoming album Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King
will be. The record doesn't hit the public the beginning of next month, but the songs are already being worn in nightly, with "Why I Am" getting an intense and cathartic run-through.
Singing cowboy Tex Ritter's 1948 hit "Rye Whiskey" came halfway through the set, with its yodeling, twangy chorus echoing throughout the Woodlands. The song's beleaguered drunkard echoes the whole country's current sentiments: Just give us something to numb the pain and feel good again.
Openers the Avett Brothers were the surprise of the night. Most of the DMB's openers have erred on the side of boring and humorless folkies, but the Avett's rained a shower of Townes Van Zandt and My Morning Jacket-style jams, with the quartet turning the cavernous pavilion into an alternately riotous and mournful honky-tonk.Setlist
Don't Drink The Water
Stay or Leave
Funny The Way It Is
Why I Am
Where Are You Going?
Anyone Seen the Bridge
Too Much (fake)
Pantala Naga Pampa