Dave Matthews Band: Alpine Valley Music Theater, 8-26-07
Posted 9/5/2007 by jim
Having just concluded their annual three-night run at the Gorge this past holiday weekend, I thought I might offer some musings on the Dave Matthews Band show from August 26th, the second of two shows at another American venue landmark, Alpine Valley Music Theater in East Troy, Wisconsin...that is, while I still have some memory lingering from this rather superb show.
I had not seen the band since the final Gorge show of 2004. Only the Dave and Friends show from Vegoose in 2005 had been on the resumé. It's apparent that I was very excited to see the band again. I knew it was going to be very enjoyable whatever the case, but admittedly I was a bit concerned over a couple of perceived issues that have cropped up with the band. The condition of Dave's voice, the "smaller, later-in-the-summer" tour, possible squabbles with new material in the studio, etc. These and other minutiae had clouded my mind somewhat the day of the show. Nevertheless, my fiancée and I were eagerly anticipating the whole thing.
Alpine had been deluged with rain the previous days and this was the third night in a row for the venerable amphitheater. However, this day was gorgeous and the place was in surprisingly good condition.
The band started with the trance-like "Dreaming Tree," and it was obvious that this was going to be no ordinary show. One of my prerequisites for a great Matthews show is the setlist itself. This may sound like a very selfish and snobby proposition, but I believe the selection of material is highly important in making or breaking a great concert. The crowd enjoyed run-throughs of "One Sweet World" and "Pantala Naga Pampa"/"Rapunzel" before a highly energetic version of "Hunger for the Great Light" that seemed to up the intensity for the rest of the night.
The most impressive thing about this show, in my mind, was how the band's newer material defined the evening rather than having to rely on old favorites. A more polished "Cornbread" and a slick version of "The Idea of You" served to introduce more meaningful and fun versions of "Everyday" and a somewhat rare mid-set "Ants Marching." Defying convention, we were treated with the world debut of "A Dream So Real," a slower, haunting offering by Dave and the band. I don't really remember too much from this performance, but on hearing the song from the Gorge shows, it is obvious that the song has potential. This was followed by a full-band version of "Some Devil." Somewhat curious is that the band has played more tunes from Dave's solo release of the same name, but it's hard to ignore some of the great material from that album. Also impressive were Dave's vocals on that tune. It is quite probably one of the toughest vocals he has to sing but I thought it sounded great. (His performance of the song at Farm Aid last year I thought was mediocre.)
The most memorable section of the show followed. Kirk Douglas, guitarist for the Roots, joined the band for a rousing version of "Jimi Thing" that somehow reminded me of the version from Randall's Island in 2005 starring Trey Anastasio. Indeed, I had made an insane prophecy that the former Phish frontman might show up at one of his favorite venues to guest with an old friend; unfortunately, that didn't happen. "Jimi Thing" led into the new "Eh Hee," which included an intro rap from MC Black Thought and accompaniment from the rest of the Roots. (I apologize for not having a real review of the Roots set. We must have missed three or four of their songs. What we did see was quite good.) "Eh Hee" was the most musically far-reaching showcase of the night. Dave, along with the Roots, seemed to take the tune to new heights, and it represented to me the most memorable DMB-and-guest moment I've seen; that includes the band with Ben Harper in 1996 at the Marcus Amphitheater, although I barely remember that performance.
The band ended the main set with the always-pleasing "So Much to Say">"Anyone Seen the Bridge">"Too Much" foray. Could not have asked for too much more from this set. I had been hoping for "#27" and was surprised that it hadn't been played. For the encore, Dave came out to play his customary solo acoustic slot. I have not seen him play "Sister" but a haunting, commanding performance of "Gravedigger" filled in nicely. Dave and the band seem to really enjoy playing "American Baby Intro." One would have thought the piece might remain forgotten and lost on the Stand Up release but they've since transformed the "Intro" into a powerful and experimental jam. A classic take on "All Along the Watchtower" topped off this memorable night from Alpine Valley.
Regardless of any concerns Dave Matthews Band fans might have at this point in the group's career, I thought this show served notice that Dave and his mates can still serve up a highly-charged, musically-expanding performance at any time, and I suspect that this has been the case the whole tour.
Many thanks to Nick Wesselman for his guidance on this musing. Also, thanks to Tadd Smejkal for a memorable evening. And, lastly, loving thanks to Angie Aukofer, my fiancée, at our last concert together before getting married. Wow!
September 7, 2007