Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Dave Matthews makes friends

By Meghan Healy ' Matt Reid, Collegian Staff

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It wasn’t really a surprise when Dave Matthews released a solo album; his career has been gearing toward such a move for a few years now. And it wasn’t really a surprise when that album did well either; the material on “Some Devil” managed to maintain all the magic of his work with Dave Matthews Band while declaring Matthews as an artist in his own right.

What was surprising, however, was the realization of “Some Devil” as live music. From its earliest inception, fans wondered how a Dave Matthews solo album could be translated into the artist’s strongest medium – the stage. Matthews is notorious for his highly dedicated fan following and ability to sell out venues at the blink of the eye. There was talk of a tour as early as mid-September, as Matthews prepped for “Some Devil” to hit stores and DMB took over Central Park for a benefit concert.

Fans were accustomed to seeing Dave without the band – he has toured multiple times with long-time friend Tim Reynolds – but even then the material was familiar DMB favorites and there were many songs to choose from. “Some Devil” produced only 13 tracks, hardly enough to fill the requisite two-hour sets that Matthews fans have come to expect. The announcement of “An Acoustic and Electric Evening with Dave Matthews and Friends” tour with special guests Trey Anastasio on guitar, Brady Blade on drums and Tony Hall on bass, who all appeared on “Some Devil,” as well as the addition of Ray Paczkowski on keyboards, only served to further intrigue Matthews fans.

The 12-stop tour, which kicked off on Dec. 12 and wound down Jan. 16, rose above and beyond fan’s expectations. Matthews’ fans have come to expect surprises from their musical idol and “Dave and Friends” did not disappoint. Fans religiously follow each performance and meticulously track every song played but the band always manages to sneak in a few surprises every now and then. Therefore, with the ensemble of musical talent assembled by Matthews, it was expected that each performance would bring something new to the table.

The Northeast was blessed with four of the 12 shows within reasonable driving distance. The Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, R.I., was the second stop of the tour (Dec. 13) and showed a collection of musicians primed to create musical greatness. A stop in Boston to play the FleetCenter three days later followed by shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden and Connecticut’s Hartford Civic Center finished up the Northeastern run.

At the start of each “Dave and Friends” show, Matthews and Reynolds played a small set composed of their near-legendary acoustic arrangements of DMB favorites such as “Dancing Nancies,” “Lie in Our Graves” and “Bartender.” The five to six song mini-sets seemed to satiate any appetite the crowd had for old DMB standards, making the premier of Matthews’ solo material rather well received.

Fans who attended the Providence installment of “Dave and Friends” witnessed a musical collaboration, only one day old, at its finest. The ensemble was tight and the energy was fierce. It was clear to the audience that Matthews and Anastasio were having the time of their lives and that feeling traveled out to the crowd.

Covers of Peter Gabriel’s punchy “Solsbury Hill” and Paul Simon’s ethereal “American Tune” punctuated the set and really allowed some of Matthews’ musical tastes that previously remained unseen to come through.

Anastasio took the mic over and sang lead vocals on “Spanish Moon,” a Little Feat cover, and a take on The Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek.” Despite a long fought feud between DMB and Phish fans over which band is better, there was no sign of anything but pure admiration and respect between the two frontmen.

The energy from the crowd was so strong that fans wouldn’t allow Matthews and his cohorts to leave the stage for long. The band returned quickly and busted out a powerful rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Tell Me Something Good” and the Anastasio-Matthews track off of “Some Devil,” “Too High.” After the guys left the stage for a second time, fans refused to dissipate and kept cheering. An extremely rare occurrence for any musician, Matthews, Anastasio and company took the stage yet again, for a second encore.

The fans that packed the FleetCenter in Boston on Dec. 16 got to see firsthand just why Dave Matthews and his usual band are constantly being listed among some of today’s most prominent jam bands.When “Dave and Friends” took the stage, they opened with “Dodo,” also the opening track off of “Some Devil.” In typical Matthews’ fashion, the group jammed the song for over 11 minutes. Not only did this mark the first jam of the concert but also the first extended jam of the tour. It was clear to everyone in attendance that this handful of eclectic and powerful musicians was, with a few shows under their collective belts, truly comfortable playing live together.

While the majority of the set saw previous nights’ material revisited, energy and inventiveness were in full force. Throughout the set, Matthews noted the crowd’s reaction to the virtuoso guitar playing of Reynolds and Anastasio, and in a display of true musicianship, would simply stand back and admire what was going on. Many times during the show and throughout the tour, Matthews even began dancing along with the clapping coming from the audience. Such spontaneous antics made the experience far more laidback and ultimately more intimate for everyone in the building, including those on the stage.

A big surprise of the evening, and a high point of the tour, was when opening act Emmylou Harris joined the collection of musicians on stage. Called up by Matthews, it was the first time Harris had been asked to play a song during the main set. Matthews and Harris had collaborated several times in the past, and it was heavily rumored that they would eventually play one of their usual songs together. Harris, however, surprised everyone by singing a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Oh Sister.”

The Boston show also marked the premiere of the Phish classic “Waste” into the “Dave and Friends” lineup, a song that even Phish-deficient DMB fans were already familiar with because Matthews has been covering it in live shows since April 2001. “Waste” was performed along with Matthews’s own “Everyday” as part of an acoustic duet with Anastasio in the show’s encore. To see these two icons of folk/rock music sharing a single, acoustic stage was enough to leave the crowd breathless – or at least speechless – for both songs.

Fans that were lucky enough to score tickets to the following night’s show in Madison Square Garden in New York City were treated to yet another dazzling show. It featured an even longer and more intense performance of “Dodo” and a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Fool in the Rain,” as well as performance of the song “Sweet Up and Down,” an unreleased DMB song from the now infamous “Lilywhite Sessions” that had not been played since the summer 2000.

The true highpoint of the MSG show, and a moment that truly captured the whole mood of the tour, came during the encore when Matthews and Anastasio took the stage. Starting out with one of the few tracks fans embraced off the band’s 2001 album of the same name, “Everyday,” the crowd began what has become sort of a DMB ritual, singing the phrase “Hani Hani” during the final verse. After the crowd started in, Anastasio leaned over to Matthews and whispered something to him. He then placed his hand on Matthews’ guitar and stopped him from playing. The two then sat back and smiled – letting the audience do all the work as they sang for several minutes. As is typical at a show with Matthews, the inclusion of the crowd made each member of the audience feel like they were truly part of the show.

The opportunity to see Dave Matthews, Trey Anastasio and Tim Reynolds share the stage is an experience no music fan should deprive him or herself of. However, the collection of talent found on the “Dave and Friends” tour was not limited to guitar prodigy Reynolds, jam band king
Anastasio and Matthews. Tony Hall laid down some strong bass lines and dominated the Wonder cover “Tell Me Something Good.” Brady Blade filled the shoes of usual Matthews percussionist Carter Beauford quite nicely, bringing his own, and very different, style to the show. Ray Paczkowski strongly rounded out the group on keyboard, adding a richness and depth to the “Some Devil” material.

The unusual nature of this tour and the seemingly supernatural collection of musicians that came together to create “Dave and Friends” made for 12 powerful, passionate and brilliant shows, each different than the one before. It may be a long time before Matthews shares the stage with Anastasio, Reynold and the others again. They may never come together again, but for the sake of Dave Matthews fans everywhere, let’s hope he gets the chance to play with his friends again soon.

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