Friday Night: Dave Matthews Band At The Woodlands
It's easy to dismiss what Dave Matthews and company have accomplished since the release of Under the Table and Dreaming in 1994. They have, after all, only cut a relatively paltry half-dozen studio albums, most of which received little to no airplay on mainstream radio since the band's late 1990s heyday.
None of this has mattered to the band's legions of devoted fans, however. They continue to follow Matthews and his well-seasoned cohort of musicians on their annual summer tour. And those aforementioned studio albums? DMB has released over twice that number in live recordings - also encouraging fans to make their own bootlegs - while criss-crossing the globe to become one of the most well-traveled bands around.
This rapport was evident Friday night as the band, workmanlike as always, played another perfectly competent set in front of a sold-out crowd at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. If that sounds like a less than enthusiastic endorsement from Aftermath, well...that's because it is.
To the band's credit, they still consistently sell out 17,000-seat arenas in spite of declining airwave exposure. And true to form, they played few radio-friendly cuts Friday night - "Satellite" and "I Did It," specifically - instead relying on fan favorites like "Lying in the Hands of God" and "Shake Me Like a Monkey," one of two primate-themed songs in the show (the other was "Proudest Monkey" from '96's Crash).
It's this kind of nightly variety that apparently inspires people to spend months following Matthews and company on tour. But you'll forgive Aftermath if we had a hard time pinpointing just what it is about the band that triggers this level of devotion. Sure, we found violinist Boyd Tinsley's accompaniment monotonous, but the band itself - especially guitarist Tim Reynolds and trumpet player Rashawn Ross, now permanent fixtures - is pretty tight.
Still, to paraphrase what is often said about the X-Men's Wolverine, the Dave Matthews Band may be one of the best there is at what they do, but what they do isn't especially exciting or exhilarating. Too much inoffensive guitar noodling and vocals that sounded like they were being sung through an extra set of sinuses, we thought.
Maybe it was the dreaded Houston Effect. Some spontaneous dancing was evident, but 75 percent of the people within our earshot were jabbering through the majority of the songs, coming together only to coax Matthews and company back out for the obligatory encore, including one of the closest things they have to a concert staple: Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower."
Or maybe it was the "Familiarity Breeds Contempt" factor: After 15 years of constant touring, perhaps everybody's grown complacent, unable to separate passion from compulsory enthusiasm.
The good news on that front is that Dave Matthews et al. are taking a breather in 2011. Hopefully band and fans alike can emerge from this with renewed vigor. Otherwise, there's always another
String Cheese Incident O.A.R. show.