Dave Matthews Band will play some of the biggest shows of their career this summer on their own upcoming Caravan festival run, but last night Matthews performed a rare intimate acoustic set at the 300-capacity Blue Man Group Theater at lower Manhattan’s Astor Place as part of the group’s 20th anniversary show. The performance reunited the group’s original lineup and benefited the new Blue School, which pushes for creative education.
Matthews has a deep history with the group. “I saw them in 1992, or ‘93 in that theater,” he told Rolling Stone after the show. “I saw them with my then-girlfriend who’s now my wife. It was a pretty transformative night. It blew my mind.”
He shuffled onstage a few minutes past 7 p.m. in black jeans and a button-up shirt with a scruffy beard, and picked up one of four acoustic guitars lined up next to a table containing guitar picks and tea. He kicked a haunting rendition of “Bartender,” tapping his boots and quietly growing the ascending melody. Within seconds, he was howling it with fury.
Matthews’ set leaned heavy on his 2003 solo LP Some Devil, including “Stay or Leave,” which had him reaching high in his falsetto, and an upbeat “So Damn Lucky.” He was chatty and open; it felt like the closest thing to seeing him perform in clubs in his early days in Charlottesville, Virginia, and proved he may be more comfortable in front of a festival crowd than an intimate room. “I get all goofy when I get nervous. It’s a nice big room, which is terrifying,” he joked, half-mumbling. After strapping on a small 12-string guitar and introduced a song he said he “Had no idea whether was good or not – it’s just a favorite song of mine.” He played a flawless, delicately picked version of Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” – the best moment of the night.
Late in the set, he introduced “Gravedigger,” a surprising choice to dedicate to his kids in the audience. “They like this song. It’s a little dark but they like it because they have kind of a good perspective on the world,” he said. He ended playing electric guitar for a haunting, reveb-soaked “Some Devil.”
After the Blue Man Group’s manic, trippy show, Matthews emerged to play with them, joined by Tracy Bonham, who added chilling violin for “An’ Another Thing” and sang with Matthews on “Sing Along” from the Blue Man Group’s 2003 album The Complex.