Harveys Outdoor Arena closed out its summer concert series Wednesday night with a dazzling performance from touring titans the Dave Matthews Band.
With a sold-out crowd packed comfortably together in the evening breeze, guitarist Dave Matthews stepped onto the stage in a black button down shirt and pants, with a grin that curled in mischief at the sight of 7,000 fans cheering. With galactic, boulder-like staging towering over him, Matthews looked pleased to be sharing the night with such vocal company.
Starting last year, the band has adopted a two-set format for its concerts, an acoustic first set and an electric second set. Alone with his guitar, Matthews opened the show with “Rye Whiskey” and “Little Red Bird,” a sweet couplet he played with grace. Eventually, Matthews was joined by bassist Stefan Lessard, drummer Carter Beauford, trumpeter Rashawn Ross, saxophonist Jeff Coffin, fiddle player Boyd Tinsley and guitarist Tim Reynolds, and the whole band skipped lightly through the wholesome “One Sweet World.”
The band’s music has long been very polarizing. When you put together a band with a jazz-bred drummer, a fiddle player playing alongside a horn section, a bassist prodigy and an acoustic guitarist with a penchant for out-there chords, there can be a lot of things going on, some not always hitting their mark. A song they have been testing out on tour, “Be Yourself,” features Matthews’ garble-scatting as part of its actual melody, which already makes the song feel messy, and overall it skitters around on a crowded rhythm.
But taking those seemingly conflicting parts and engineering a unique and well-oiled music machine with them is what this band has thrived for more than 20 years. The smokey aura of “Crush” combusted into a searing jam that bounced back and forth between Tinsley’s whirring fiddle, the bluesy theatrics of Reynolds’ guitar and the dueling howls from Ross and Coffin. Fan favorite “#41” also proved to be a stunning performance. In front of a screen that twirled pastoral flowers and trees in shades of blues and reds, the sweetened groove majestically unfurled into an ethereal outro that whispered away over the crowd.
The fact is this band is immensely talented. Beauford moved with the nimbleness of a hummingbird over his cymbals and toms on the tender “Lover Lay Down” and Tinsley stunned the crowd with his charming wah-wah fiddle on “Everyday.” And the band does not settle to give you the same show it had last year. Ross and Coffin punctuated older songs with fresh horn melodies and interludes, even working out parts during songs. The band explored different territory routinely as well, taking the classic “Typical Situation” and adding a syncopated salsa-jammed that turned on a dime in the acoustic set.
One thing that surely pleased some of the more hardcore Dave fans was the two sets leaned heavily on material from their earliest albums, considered by many to be their best. Ten songs came from the band’s first four albums, almost half the setlist, including five from the monumental album “Crash.” Only two songs made the setlist from the band’s most recent three albums, though a thrilling version of “You Might Die Trying” from 2005’s “Stand Up” nabbed the final song of the night.
A final summer crowd blown away by another top-notch artist, Harveys can go relax with its feet up and drink in hand satisfied in having put together another great summer of music.
Dave Matthews Band
Sept. 9, 2015, Harveys Outdoor Arena
“Little Red Bird”
“One Sweet World”
“Lover Lay Down”
“Down By The River”
“So Much To Say”→
“Anyone Seen The Bridge?” →
“Black and Blue Bird”
“Burning Down the House”
“You and Me”
“Digging a Ditch”
“The Space Between”
“You Might Die Trying”