Dave Matthews Band delivers hits-light, top-notch concert

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"I want to get away," repeated Dave Matthews as he transitioned from the falsetto-fueled "Little Thing" into "Funny the Way It Is" to begin his band's three and a half hour set performance at First Niagara Pavilion.

And if there was any common theme to the night, where the temperature toyed pleasantly around 70 degrees, it was that this show was a getaway from the ordinary--even the ordinary Dave Matthews Band concert.

Because for the 21 songs that the group played to its fan-base(with a devotion akin to a poor man's Phish), those that could be called "hit songs"--usually highlights for the newcomers--were few and far between. In fact, outside of "Funny the Way It Is"--the first single released off of their last album, 2009's "Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King,"--only "Crush" and "Tripping Billies" (and possibly "Lie In our Graves") were identifiable to the casual DMB fan. No "Ants Marching," no odd "So Much To Say," and forget about "Crash Into Me."

That's not to say that Dave Matthews Band put on a poor performance- in fact, far from it. "Funny the Way It Is" was a well-chosen song for the beginning, as any of the lawngoers (whose numbers swelled to full midway through the set) could see how perfectly drummer Carter Beauford broke in with his invigorating beat. And the jam-heavy "Seek Up" lent a certain electric tension that was dispelled by "Seven's" changing tempo and walking bass line.

No, all of the musicians played well, executed solos with manic fervency, and conducted jams that seemingly entranced the hardcore fans. The problem was that, for the first-timers and the friends of friends, there were only a few lonely oases of hit songs in a desert of deep tracks.

In the end, you just have to chalk it up to luck. Dave Matthews Band must play shows like these--filled with more obscure songs like the ensuing "Raven"--both to please the most devoted fans, and also make those hit-filled performances all the more special.

And when those more popular tracks did appear--like when "Crush" drifted in after a bass solo--the audience was almost thrilled, singing along even with the verse. In fact, "Crush" may have been the highlight of the night, with enough jazziness and hook-filled choruses to please almost everyone. And it never hurts to sprinkle in some of Beauford's frantic drum solos, pairing with the flashing lights to evoke the imagery of a firecracker.

Yet, it would be a few more songs before the whole crowd could join in together again. "Corn Bread," a folksy, upbeat song complete with a Matthews scat session over the music, and a newer hit "Mercy," didn't seem to completely hook the audience, but calling Pittsburgh a "beautiful city" and describing its inclines in between tracks was likely enough for those who weren't as familiar.

Even for those unlucky few, it was likely still fun to see Matthews play piano and violinist Boyd Tinsley is always exciting when he launches into another frenzied solo. And "Grey Street" was energetic enough to dance to, especially with a pronounced trumpet giving it a jazz flavor.

However, "Lie In Our Graves"--an optimistic song, contrary to its title--and "Tripping Billies" did well to end the last tier of the show on a positive vibe. "Eat, drink, and be merry" instructed the latter, and the audience took the words to heart, making the two upbeat (if slightly existential) songs perfect to end the night on,

The encore found Dave performing a solo cover of Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale"--a rather haunting song that dates back all the way to 1967. But despite the rare performance of "Water into Wine" transitioning into "All Along The Watchtower," the encore felt a little like a wasted opportunity. Something popular and potentially jamming, like "Two Step" or even "Stay (Wasting Time)" could've brought the house down.

Regardless, the show was likely a special one to remember for the dedicated Dave fanatics, and still a fun one for everyone else. homepage - musicreviews

ealpern@post-gazette.com First Published July 14, 2012 1:30 PM


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