After leading his band through a blazing two-hour set in Hartford, Connecticut Friday night — the first of a 50-date summer tour — Dave Matthews returned to the amphitheatre stage for an encore. "We've never played this song live before," he told the crowd. "So if we fuck up, you won't know." The band then launched into "Break for It," a slow-burning acoustic track that has occasionally kicked around at soundchecks since 2006, but only made its debut four years later. DMB recently announced that they will take a break from their relentless touring schedule in 2011, so this night's kick-off gig was an opportunity for the band to dust off songs they hadn't played in years.
When DMB took the stage in a haze of blue fog, they got things rolling with "JTR," a spiraling acoustic jam that the band originally cut with producer Steve Lillywhite in 2000. (Most of the songs from those sessions ended up on 2002's Busted Stuff, although fans have traded bootleg versions for years.) Matthews seemed in high spirits: he bobbed his head and busted out his two-step stage shuffle. "It's opening night of the tour," he said. "If I look goofy, that could be why." Later, DMB unleashed "Kit Kat Jam" and "Busted Stuff," also from the Lillywhite sessions, and those tunes sounded lean and tight, even though the band hadn't performed them live since the early 2000s. The highlight of the night came when the band left Matthews onstage solo to serenade the crowd with the folk standard "Rye Whiskey."
Matthews played plenty of material from recent albums, growling over the runaway-train rhythm of "Hello Again" from 2005's Stand Up. During "Seven," from their recent album Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, Matthews and guitarist Tim Reynolds broke the song down into Deep Purple-ish arena-rock guitar riffs. Reynolds has played shows with Matthews since 1993 as an acoustic duo, but the guitarist has been with DMB full time since 2008. And while Reynolds lays low throughout the show for the most part, his sonic contributions (especially on tunes like "Proudest Monkey") offer a mellow, atmospheric dimension to the band's rootsy, jammy songs.
The biggest cheers of the night came during the band's bursts through their Nineties hits. The crowd howled during the opening bursts of "Ants Marching" and when DMB launched into the set staple "Dancing Nancies," Matthews scatted gently in the intro before letting the crowd take over with a sing-along during the choruses. He seemed impressed with the crowd's enthusiasm, and rewarded them with a tweaked lyric that got an epic roar: "Lost somewhere in Hartford."
For the lowdown on nearly 50 more of this season's biggest tours and festivals, be sure to check out Rolling Stone's Summer Tour Preview.
"Funny the Way It Isv
"Shake Me Like a Monkey"
"Kit Kat Jam"
"You and Me"
"Break For It"
"You Might Die Trying"