Dave Matthews Band: Summerfest, 7/2/2014
Posted 07/03/2014 by cal
Ten years ago I would've been coming at this from a pure fan perspective. At that point I knew every song Dave might play and had a pretty good handle on when he might play it. Last night I had trouble singing along to "Rhyme & Reason" and couldn't remember the name of "The Stone". I guess I'm not the fan I once was. There are probably a lot of reasons for this. Let's see...
Have Dave's songs gotten worse? I started losing interest after 2005's Stand Up, which I mostly liked but since then I haven't been able to latch onto more than a handful of new songs he's put out. I also recall his '05 Alpine Valley show being the first thoroughly disappointing show I'd seen him play. His Dave & Friends project seemed so much more inspired. Maybe he never quite recovered. As indicated by the manic-depressive songs he was writing in those days, it seemed like a bleary, somewhat tortured and intoxicated period of time for him, but it translated to some huge music.
This new two-set format is such a far cry from what I always loved about Dave shows, though, which was an ever-shifting dynamic sway between joy and bitterness, intensity and tenderness, throughout a long, flowing set. He did some solo acoustic stuff to start out those &Friends shows, which was totally fine, but on this tour it's a full set with the whole band acoustic. Okay, for one thing, the DMB I loved most was essentially acoustic, aside from the bass. This tour is just an excuse for Boyd to sit on a stool for the first hour, and for the band to basically play mellower stuff and not jam. Who the hell wants that?
It was cool to hear "Slip Slidin' Away", (or rather, "hear", thanks to the Marcus Amphitheater's focking joke of a PA, which never fully crackled to life, meaning most of the lawn was a sonic wasteland), and "So Damn Lucky" was kinda interesting to hear acoustic, but otherwise it was limp renditions of the songs I knew plus a couple that have come out since I lost interest in his albums.
The "normal" set started out great with "Minarets" and "The Stone", but "Crush" posed a problem. I love this song obscenely, but when it's time for the jam I want something moody and jazzy. First I missed Butch. Still not sure why they ditched the piano player, but if he's not there, what you need is a soulful, bluesy guitar solo, which you're definitely not gonna get from Tim Reynolds. So they did a happy, upbeat thing, which was great until Reynolds actually came in. Every time that guy played a guitar solo I thought 'that can't POSSIBLY be the tone he's going for, can it?' Just horrendous.
Maybe you can tell--I am not a fan of Tim being a full-time member of this band. I've seen some shows where I thought he was pretty good, but ultimately an electric guitar doesn't belong in the man's hands. Seems like a charity issue to me, but whatever; he was just an occasional annoyance at this show. After "Crush" it was a string of newer tunes (I really can't stand "Seven"; that song could almost single-handedly justify all hipsters who judge Dave on the strength of his cheesiest songs), and then "Warehouse". They've done away with the "WOO" opening and have gone back to the old-school beginning; happier about this, I could not be. I love what they did with this one. Haven't heard one get that loopy in a long, long time. After all this time I suppose it's still my favorite Dave song.
The rest of the set was a blast. During "So Much To Say" I realized that in the billion or so times I've heard that song I never really gave the lyrics much thought; they're canonized to the point that they mean nothing at all, they're just sounds your mouth makes along with Dave, but they actually hit home in kind of a huge way this time. That always enhances a show.
The encore was kind of lame, though. No complaints about "The Needle And The Damage Done", but...okay, I didn't know "Drunken Soldier", and I actually thought it seemed like a pretty solid piece in terms of latter-day Dave, ambitious but not overwrought. But come on, throw me a bone after that--not "Shake It Like A Monkey" for fuck's sake. Is that seriously what you want to leave people with? Ah, what's the use.
You know what would be cool for an acoustic first set? Tell Tim and Jeff and Rashawn to chill backstage for the first hour and just play a regular old-style set with only the surviving original members. Boyd can even sit on a stool if he wants. The way this tour is set up just feels like a slight ripoff. I got to sing along to a bunch of my favorite tunes; that's about the only way I can judge a DMB show any more. Maybe that's all it's ever really been. The songs are going to do what they do; there are just fewer of them per show nowadays that I love. But the ones I've always loved I sure don't love any less. Somehow there are always enough of them to make it worth going.