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Dave Matthews Band Mix "Whiskey" With Jams at Austin City Limits

October 4, 2009 11:46 AM ET

At the end of the day, and especially at the end of this day at Austin City Limits, the crowd wanted the Dave Matthews Band they've known for the past 15 years or so. After slogging through an insistent downpour and the resulting thick, oozing mud, the guys trading chest bumps and girls woo-hooing with the regularity (and irritation) of a snooze alarm would have accepted the DMB on auto-pilot. They needed no spectacle. (Watch footage from their set above).

Dave Matthews Band, for certain, are not about spectacle. The closest they came was when a handful of red balls bounced over the crowd during "You Might Die Trying," as the stage was bathed in matching red light. That was pretty much that. Matthews took the stage one song earlier looking, more or less, like he always has forever (gray button-up with sleeves rolled up, black pants); daring stage wear for him is a T-shirt and jeans. The band looked the same, too, or at least the same as it has been since saxophone player LeRoi Moore's death last year: horn players Jeff Coffin and Rashawn Ross and guitarist Tim Reynolds, joining stalwarts Boyd Tinsley (violin), Carter Beauford (drums), and Stefan Lessard (bass). But the Dave Matthews Band was different on Saturday night. Or, at least it tried to be. And, at its most successful, it was.

Experience Austin City Limits in our best live photos.

Hidden in the middle of a sprawling — yet abrupt by DMB standards — set, there was another Dave Matthews Band. A world inside the world, as Don DeLillo might say, populated by a economical rock band that played songs with definitive beginnings, middles, and ends instead of never-ending series of middles, and middles to those middles, and so on. Playing four songs ("Funny the Way It Is," "Seven," "Shake Me Like a Monkey," and "Why I Am") from this summer's Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King bunched one after the other — only broken up by similar-in-spirit "So Damn Lucky" from Matthews' solo record, Some Devil — the group proved they need not extend every song merely for the sake of doing so. They maybe even shouldn't.

The band attacked "You Might Die Trying" (from 2005's Stand Up) with a menace, and that continued through its early reliance on GrooGrux King material. But that tight coil was eventually pulled loose by the clock-stopping jams that paid for the band's houses. Coming on the heels of the punch, defiant "Why I Am," the Tinsley-propelled "Jimi Thing" turned into the long, "introduce the band" jam where everyone gets their beak wet. The over-long, solo-trading version grew tedious but it was salvaged by a take on Prince's "Sexy MF," or at least the "sexy motherfucker shakin' that ass" chorus. It was a tip of the hat, of sorts, to the DMB's Minneapolis fascination: GrooGrux King's "Shake Me Like a Monkey," with its leering lyrics and horny horns, isn't a Morris Day & The Time cover, but it could be.

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People started trickling out at that point, and it was a good time to go. The economical rock band from before had left for good, only showing back up for a note-for-note cover of Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House." Better that it stayed away; that was a song that could have used any trace of the more familiar Dave Matthews Band. Matthews didn't even sound like himself. He made up for that with the rinse-and-repeat rest of the set (familiar readings of "So Much to Say" and "Ants Marching"), which was fine. It was what the people who braved the rain and the much and everything else came for. But I would have like another glance at the world inside the world. That's the right kind of spectacle.

More Austin City Limits:
Levon Helm, Zac Brown Band, Deer Tick and More Battle the Mud at Austin City Limits Day Two
Kings of Leon, Yeah Yeah Yeahs Wrap Austin City Limits Day One
Them Crooked Vultures Jolt Austin City Limits, Plus Phoenix, Avett Brothers Rock Day One
Look back at the best of Rolling Stone's summer festival coverage

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