Dave Matthews Band, SPAC, Saratoga Springs, NY- 5/31
Photo by Andrew Blackstein
While it may still be the same songs played by the same band, a new format can both challenge a group and give its shows a new energy. For Dave Matthews Band, whose summer tour features two sets, one acoustic and the other electric, instead of the single electric sets that have been the norm in the past, this change has given its fans a new way to hear its music, while the band exhibits a new excitement 23 years into a career.
On May 30 and 31, Dave Matthews Band brought its two set show for the first two night stand of the tour to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Over the years, the band has developed a special affinity for the amphitheater. On the second night of the run, the band chose an eclectic mix of songs, making it another memorable night of DMB at SPAC.
Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds started the acoustic set with “Bartender.” The duo was then joined by Carter Beauford on a very spare drum set of bongos and cymbals, compared to his regular larger kit, for “Recently.” Stefan Lessard joined the group next with an upright bass to perform the rare “Pay For What You Get.” Although the first set didn’t include any extended jams, the band, with its different configurations of members, delivered a very tight performance, particularly during the well-arranged “So Damn Lucky,” that followed, with Jeff Coffin and Rashawn Ross joining on horns. Later on, the band was completed when Boyd Tinsley joined on violin for “Satellite.” The full group played two more songs, John Denver’s “Take Me to Tomorrow,” which Matthews covered on the 2013 John Denver tribute album, The Music Is You, and a unique “Ants Marching.” The acoustic instrumentation gave the audience a truly different way to hear “Ants,” specifically during the song’s breakdown, which usually features Beauford pounding on his kit, as opposed to bongos and cymbals on this given night.
After a brief intermission, DMB came back onstage for an electric set, where they quickly jumped into “Pig.” Besides a desire to see the new format, there was some curiosity regarding how Tinsley would play. He revealed in May that he had surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome and while he was more reserved during the first set, he showed early on in the electric set that his playing was just as sharp as it has ever been, beginning with two strong solos in “Crush.” Tinsley and the rest of the band continued with “If Only,” followed by “Say Goodbye,” featuring an intro from Coffin (on flute) and Beauford. The rest of the set featured a mix of upbeat songs like “So Right,” “Drive In, Drive Out,” and “You Might Die Trying,” and mellow ones like “Where Are You Going?” and “Crash Into Me.” The closing “Jimi Thing,” that featured the longest jam of the night as Ross and Coffin repeatedly switched off to solos before segueing into Prince’s “Sexy M.F.” The band came on stage once more for an encore featuring two high energy songs from Big Whiskey & GrooGrux King: “Squirm,” and “Shake Me Like a Monkey,” which left the crowd chanting for one more song.