Three separate times during his band's sold-out show in New York last night, Dave Matthews posed a simple question to the audience: "Who starts a tour at Madison Square Garden?" It was as if it was the first time the Dave Matthews Band had ever played the legendary venue. And from the sound of the first few songs of the show, DMB seemed as if they were genuinely nervous playing in front of 20,000 fans, despite rocking the room numerous times in their career. The group kicked things off with some relatively mellow versions of "Don't Drink the Water," the dirgey "Raven" and their new single "Funny The Way It Is" (off the upcoming Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King), a funked-up, time-shifting number that sounds like it's in need of some more road-testing.
But mid-way through the gig, Dave Matthews and his band — violinist Boyd Tinsley, guitarist Tim Reynolds, drummer Carter Beauford, bassist Stefan Lessard and brass players Jeff Coffin and Rashawn Ross, who have joined the lineup since LeRoi Moore died last year — cranked up the heat. After a breezy run through the lovely "Pig," Matthews brought on special guest Gregg Allman, who, Matthews said, "happened to be in town tonight." With Allman on acoustic, the crew ran through a stellar version of "Melissa," with Reynolds delivering some nimble slide-guitar work. Perhaps inspired by Allman's guest appearance, DMB finally caught fire.
Matthews strapped on an electric guitar for another new track, "Why I Am," a pummeling, near-power-pop number that's destined to become a showstopper. But old fan favorites proved to be the predictable highlights of the night: "Recently" featured blazing interplay between Reynolds, Tinsley, Beauford and Coffin while the one-two punch of the set closer veered from the mellow jam "#41" into a fiery rendition of "Two Step."
Even though he wasn't present, Moore still loomed large in the room. After "Why I Am" — which featured Matthews singing "Here I am, still dancing with the Groogrux King," referring to Moore's nickname — fans erupted into a chant of "LeRoi! LeRoi!." Matthews seemed particularly touched by the sentiment: he turned his back away from the audience and, for a moment, the frontman allowed Moore's spirit take center stage.
"Don't Drink the Water"
"Funny The Way It Is"
"You Might Die Trying"
"So Damn Lucky"
"Why I Am"
Encore: "Sister" "Tripping Billies" Related Stories: • Dave Matthews Band Salute LeRoi Moore on New Album • Dave Matthews Band's "Funny the Way It Is" Available as Free Download • Dave Matthews Band Plot Out Spring 2009 Tour, New Album