Dave Matthews Band Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion May 17, 2013
"It's the humidity that makes the funk more glorious," mused a certain Mr. Dave Matthews in his amused, half-mumbled manner as he opened Friday night's show in The Woodlands, the first stop on the band's annual summer tour.
Oh, and what glorious funk it was. That statement set the tone for the night's sweltering concert, during which the Dave Matthews Band spent two hours improvising and extended each song into a jam-band version of its former self.
That's pretty much Dave Matthews Band concert protocol, though. Dave Matthews concerts generally aren't built for the casual fan, and rarely will you hear more than a smattering of radio hits played during their sets. With 20 years of material to draw from, and a penchant for jam-banding the shit out of each song, it takes a devout member of the church of DMB to recognize most of the songs on their ever-evolving set list.
That little fact didn't seem to put off the thousands of fans in attendance at The Woodlands show, though. As the band opened with "Grey Street" off their 2002 album Busted Stuff, the audience that filled the pavilion came to life right along with the musicians, despite the relative obscurity of the song.
There was little casual banter from Dave as he launched the audience into a wide coverage of the DMB catalog; we went from "Broken Things" to "Dreamgirl" and "Seven" with only a few short musings from him as the band transitioned from song to song.
As a front man, Dave is probably one of the most awkward, yet also extremely likable, guys to take the stage. And true to form, he seemed uncomfortable with the silence between songs on Friday night; the only time he appeared completely at ease onstage was when the music started back up and he fell back into place behind that aggressive folk-funk groove.
Between songs, he busted out lines that must have been spoken in a language only the most devout DMB fans could comprehend. At one point, Dave looked out at the crowd and, with that infamous half-smile, says,"You smell gooood, everyone from Houston that could make it this evening."
I couldn't tell if he was alluding to the skunky clouds that hovered above the pit, or if he was giving our city props for some rockin' hygiene, but despite my confusion, he was so obviously amused with the limelight that he was completely endearing.
Dave also seemed keenly aware that although he may be the namesake of the band, he's only one small fraction of the ensemble. He made a point of showcasing his fellow musicians -- all seven of the other guys on stage -- and was content to literally step back and let his bandmates bask in their share of the limelight, doing so during nearly every song.
His humble persona is perhaps part of why these guys have outlasted the majority of the other funk/jazz/folk jam-bands. Despite there being eight guys onstage, there's no struggle for control; there's just a tight, cohesive understanding from each musician as to his rightful place. It's a collaboration in the most basic of forms; each part of the collective is a necessary component, and without that part, the magic would be lost.
They've also held on for all these years thanks to what amounts to an incredible showcase of talent up on that stage. Dave is backed by drummer Carter Beauford, violinist Boyd Tinsley, bassist Stefan Lessard, saxophonist Jeff Coffin, guitarist Tim Reynolds, and trumpeter Rashawn Ross, every single one of them a serious musician. Say what you want about their style, but they deserve a nod for being fantastic artists.
DMB's jazz-pop sound was anchored right into place by the surprisingly heavy crash of drum beats, courtesy of Beauford's kit. He is easily one of the most underrated drummers around right now, and his incredible percussion makes all the difference. He takes DMB from symphonic to rad, and I was stoked to see the close-ups of his foot pedal flash across the video screen in a nod to his skills.
There was also this beautiful manner in which Tinsley tore apart the strings on his violin; his lanky size and fluid mannerisms make him akin to a praying mantis playing when he's playing that instrument, and it's mesmerizing to watch.
Tinsley loses all human quality as he becomes entwined with the violin in the most graceful of ways. With his dreads swinging and his eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses, he creates some of the most zealous, exciting sounds that I've ever heard come from a violin. I was blown away.
Despite the overall quality of the musicianship onstage, there were times when the improvisations became a bit overwhelming. I don't think the boredom that sprung up mid-set was all courtesy of the $45 bottle of Dave Matthews' Dreaming Tree wine that was sitting at my feet, either. It had be, in part, from the group jamming each song into oblivion. (Yes, he has his own wine, and it's not bad, despite the exorbitant price.)
With each song extending into never-ending territory (i.e. eight minutes or so), the songs began to bleed one into another, and without having earned my frequent Dave Matthews card, I was often confused on which song we were actually listening to. It didn't much matter, though. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the hell out of themselves; there were people dancing in the aisles seemingly nonstop.
The show was pretty solid, but there were a few highlights along the way. The crowd roared as the band launched into the uber-popular hit, "So Much To Say," leading to this exuberant show of what seemed like barn-dancing by the girls in front of me. Kudos, chicks. It was awesome to see people straight just not give a fuck.
And I sang right along with the guys next to me -- who were at their 78th Dave Matthews show, by the way, and would be in Austin a few days after the Houston concert, marking their 80th concert -- when they launched into "Jimi Thing," which has the best outro ever. Yes, we all shamelessly chanted the words,"Sexy mother fucker, shakin' that ass," over and over again.
I was surprised to hear the band launch into "Ants Marching" during the encore; I'd kind of hoped they'd play it, but after they had already covered a couple of their more mainstream hits, I was sure they wouldn't go there.
Oh, but when they did, that flock of devotees went absolutely mad, turning that frenzied barn-dancing all the way up by taking it to a speed I wasn't sure possible. I'm not gonna lie; it even suckered me in for a moment, and I danced right along, despite my "too cool for this barn-dancing shit" attitude that I was rockin'.
Overall it was, without a doubt, a typical Dave Matthews band concert. It was full of super-devoted fans, clouds of weed smoke, and some freakin' incredible musicianship. And although I won't be attending my eightieth show any time soon, I can see why some fools would. With the ever-evolving set list, the excitable fans, and the jam-band element, there's no way the show could get boring, even if I personally feel like the music on the albums is.
Personal Bias: My date prays at the church of Dave Matthews Band, so I think his devotion started to rub off on me towards the end. How else does one explain the frenzied dancing that I took part in?
The Crowd: Oh, you dirty, dirty hippies. How I like you, with your polite "Excuse me"s and overall manners. I'll forgive the Birkenstocks this once.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Can I borrow your lighter? Oh, you don't smoke? Like, don't smoke anything?!"
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Random Notebook Dump: The bass player was wearing a wolf shirt; not Three Wolf Moon, but just a lone wolf. That was important enough for me to write down, twice.