Dave Matthews Band Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion May 16, 2014
If it's May, it must be another Dave Matthews Band show.
The venerable ensemble made its annual late spring stop at the CWMP last Friday night, enjoying unseasonably temperate weather (Dave himself commented on the refreshing lack of humidity) and mixing things up somewhat, playing one acoustic and one electric set for an arena of mostly appreciative fans.
I say "mostly" because — this being Houston — it's hard to understand why so many people pay $75 and up for tickets when they're only paying attention about one-third of the time. Then again, this being the DMB, you're really not hearing a lot that's new, are you?
I'll give this to the guy: he's punctual. Judging by the cluster fuck I observed at the box office, nobody really expected them to take the stage at 7 (in spite of it being stated on both his web site and info posted at the Pavilion). Maybe they just weren't familiar with a show starting while the sun was still up, but start he did, accompanied by acoustic guitar and the rest of the unplugged band.
And admittedly, it was a pretty enjoyable experience. There was more banter than usual, and again, I have to credit the weather. You know what can happen when a band isn't used to Houston's humidity. Opening with "Bartenders" from Busted Stuff and including crowd favorites "Satellite" (the only offering from the band's debut album, Under the Table and Dreaming) and "Tripping Billies."
I say "crowd favorites" because these were among the only songs when it seemed like the audience stopped having conversations and listened (or at least held still long enough to record the songs with their phones). Holy shit, Houston: shut the fuck up once in a while.
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A high point of the acoustic set was a cover of Sixto Rodriguez's "Sugar Man." Rodriguez, Matthews helpfully reminded some of us, is a Detroit musician who released two unheralded (in the US) albums and then faded to obscurity, except in Matthews' native South Africa, where he was arguably more popular than Elvis. If you don't know what I'm talking about, go watch the excellent 2012 doc, Searching for Sugar Man.
[Not so fun fact: SFSM director Malik Bendjelloul passed away last week at the age of 36.]
The acoustic section was the most I've enjoyed a Dave Matthews Band concert in, well, ever. So of course they had to ruin it by doing a second, electric set.
Review continues on the next page.
Almost more than any other band in this, the Year 19 AJG (After Jerry Garcia), the DMB is renowned for its live shows. They've released eight studio albums in 20 years, but also almost 60 "official" live recordings. Obviously the band doesn't need a new release to tour behind (their latest, Away From the World, dropped almost two years ago), so the mixing it up they do live is allegedly part of the appeal.
But if you listen to them long enough, you hear lots of songs with similar cues ("Ants Marching" and "Tripping Billies" come to mind), and the "jams" often don't amount to much more than repetitive strumming and a few new chord changes. During the electric set, the song "Seek Up" felt like it went on for 20 minutes, most of it consisting of little more than looping of the same riff.
Is it Dave himself that dictates this? The band — guitarist Tim Reynolds, percussionist Carter Beauford, and horn/sax players Rashawn Ross and Jeff Coffin especially — seem like talented enough dudes, but you'd expect more from a jam band than the largely simplistic melodies and droning vocals of its front man.
Matthews can always be relied on to throw in a few rarer cuts ("Minarets" from the band's pre-RCA Remember Two Things and Busted's "Big Eyed Fish" fit that bill Friday), and even a mere eight albums allows the band to sprinkle songs from every one throughout the show, so part of the band's popularity can certainly be ascribed to getting a different setlist every time you attend. Other than that, I'm at a loss to explain it.
By the time the encore rolled around: "The Space Between" followed by "All Along the Watchtower" — which a well-lubricated gentleman behind me stubbornly insisted up until the song started would actually be "Ants, Marching" — I was forced to conclude much of what drives the crowds to a DMB show is comfort. I get it: life was a lot simpler when you were in college back in the 90s, and hearing "Pantala Naga Pampa" live hearkens back to a happier time of puka shell necklaces and doing keg stands while your friend held your bucket hat for you.
Jennifer Aniston eventually changed her haircut, guys. It's time to move on.
Personal Bias: Every coed I waited tables with at a College Park, MD area restaurant in the mid-90s loved these guys.
The Crowd: I remember my first beard.
Overheard In The Crowd: "Thank you, Dave!" Also, several drunkenly screamed requests for songs which a) he already played, or b) he rarely plays live ("The Dreaming Tree?")
Random Notebook Dump: "I haven't had a woman ask me to lift my shirt in decades. Thanks, Pavilion security!"
ACOUSTIC SET LIST
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Stay or Leave
Take Me to Tomorrow (John Denver cover)
Stolen Away on 55th and 3rd
Sugar Man (Sixto Rodriguez cover)
ELECTRIC SET LIST
Big Eyed Fish
One Sweet World
Don't Drink the Water
Belly Belly Nice
Pantala Naga Pampa
The Space Between
All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan cover)