Dave Matthews Band Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion May 18, 2012
On the way to Friday's Dave Matthews Band show, the question was raised as to the difference between what Radiohead is doing now -- the improvised jams that were birthed this past year -- and what the DMB does on a nightly basis. The only difference that can be gleaned is that the DMB smiles a shit-ton more and for Radiohead it's still undefined country.
But to tell you the truth, both their audiences look the same about now.
Obviously the DMB couldn't do what Thom Yorke and their now-growing crew do, but they have perfected what they do best, now over the past 20-odd years. It's challenging to analytical listeners, a soothing painkiller for hardcore fans and background noise for half the crowd. That last part is the most tragic, I guess.
The band is a champion thoroughbred, muscled-up and disciplined, yet somehow the execution has grown so fluid it's even difficult for a casual fan to notice.
DMB had been rehearsing most of last week in the Pavilion, giving Woodlands locals a daily treat. Friday night's show was the kickoff gig for this round of touring that will keep the band on the road, their natural habitat, until September.
Noticeably absent from the set Friday night was the group's typical selection of covers. The usual cavalcade of Neil Young, Paul Simon and Talking Heads jam rave-ups were gone from the set list, replaced with three new songs. It doesn't count as a cover if they play one of his solo album tracks.
The first, "Gaucho," was made available to DMB fan-club members late last week as a free download, and came with Tim Reynolds's guitar snarl live, a children's chorus on the studio edition. As is customary with most DMB work, the live version slays the studio stab. "Mercy" and "Sweet" also made their full-band debuts, after floating around as solo Matthews cuts for a while now.
Noticeably present in the DMB set on Friday was Matthews the howler, showing off a set of whups and screams that probably hadn't been the norm for over a decade or so. "Don't Drink the Water" actually sounded angry, as it did back in 1998. I was expecting them to leak Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" into it as they have before, but not this time.
The most inspired jams came from Crash's "#41" and "Crush" off of Before These Crowded Streets. When I say inspired, I mean that I wasn't staring off into space from a contact high or boredom, and was actually staring at the stage and watching the way they work. For a guy who spent a week listening to the collected works of Phil Anselmo, it was a nice change.
This tour is going to be interesting for longtime devotees as the band seems to be morphing yet again into something else, making for great set-list drama. These expanses on Friday night weren't the corny smile-time jamborees we've gotten used to seeing from them.
Personal Bias: From about the summer of 1996 until 1998, I was a devoted DMB fan, but by 2001's Everyday I had lost the plot and was turned off by the huge crowds. When you are 17, you are supposed to hate that shit, and besides, a DMB fire-dancer patch doesn't jibe with a Black Flag one, especially on a black trenchcoat. But I always kept one eye on the band.
But What About the Openers?: I regrettably missed openers Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros because I-45 traffic on a Friday afternoon sucks, red lights and limos exist and the line at the ticket booth was full of people "on the list, man" in front of me. The Zeros don't make it to Houston too terribly much, so from what I hear this was a treat of a show.
The Crowd: Muy blanco.
Overseen in the Crowd: The guy at left in this video obscured my view for most of the concert. His arm movements and Carlton Banks dance moves were more suited for a Lil' Wayne show than for a set from a white South African dude and his buddies. He seemed to embody everything I have been trying to tell my friends a DMB show isn't. I see I have failed, again.
Random Notebook Dump: It's fun watching a DMB song wind down to its normal allotted running time, because that seems to be when it's up to someone -- be it Matthews, drummer Carter Beauford or another member -- to launch them into five more minutes of work. Or maybe someone will rattle off some sort of musical ejaculation and call everyone else off. "False alarm, boys," you could hear them say.
Oh, and One More Thing: "Squirm" and "Eh Hee" are probably my new favorite live gems of theirs now.
Big Eyed Fish Funny the Way It Is Grace Is Gone Eh Hee Seven #41 Beach Ball Don't Drink the Water Mercy (New) Gaucho (New) Sweet (New) Crush You Never Know You & Me Stay or Leave (Dave Matthews song) Pantala Naga Pampa Rapunzel
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(and they really made the crowd wait for it, too) Squirm Grey Street