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Live Report: Dave Matthews Band

The Gorge, George, Wash., May 15, 1998

The opening show of the 1998 season at Washington state’s Gorge
Amphitheater, a 20,000-capacity shed perched on a precipice high
above the Columbia river, was as much about the party as it was the
music. Dave Matthews, himself on the first date of his latest tour
leg, turned in a robust two-hour set that managed to touch on all
of his previous recorded work while highlighting the group’s recent
chart-topper, Before These Crowded Streets. Matthews and
his musically capable compatriots navigated their way through the
lengthy set with aplomb — and a hefty dose of Phish/Dead-like
jamming. The crowd, not surprisingly, was howlingly appreciative.

Then again, Matthews could have played 120 minutes of Boston
covers and the audience would have cheered. Almost exclusively
college age and younger, many of the fans who came out to feast
upon the pop culture phenomenon that is the DMB seemed pretty damn
drunk. There were times when the up-front reserved section felt
like the vortex of a Saturday night frat riot, minus the bonfires,
rocks and bottle tossing. Crowd management was able to keep a lid
on the highest spirits with some aggressive treatment — mainly
immediate, irreversible expulsion — and the local police presence
was heavy. A number of roads into the concert facilities were
blocked, funneling fans into one of two grossly overloaded routes.
More than a few missed opening act Taj Mahal and some of Matthews
as well.

Inside the natural amphitheater, however, it was time to
par-tay. Matthews and his crew deserve credit for putting on a
genuinely stimulating show. Almost everyone — chemically altered
or not — became rockingly involved in the singer/guitarist’s
engaging, highly personal vocal approach and his band’s steady
support. Starting with the jumpy new “Rapunzel,” gliding through
old favorites “Two Step” and “Jimi Thing” and almost scatting the
jazzed-up “Crush,” Matthews handily worked with the capacity crowd.
When he wasn’t singing, he was carrying on tight, center-stage
musical conversations with violinist Boyd Tinsley and saxophonist
Leroi Moore. Bassist Stefan Lessard and drummer Carter Beauford
built a solid rhythmic cradle for the lead instruments, and the
interplay throughout was tight and dynamic.

As with any Matthews concert, there were extensive stretches of
noodling, which allowed both Matthews and his longtime collection
of players plenty of room to stretch and the crowd to groove. Long
leads built into raging crescendos, creating a cacophonic
call-and-response between band and fans. Tinsley, his strings
shredded from rapid to-and-fro bowing, was especially dramatic. But
sometimes the dynamics, strong as they were, ran short of musical
ideas. Two- and three-note riffs, played over and over, created a
pleasant-enough dizzying effect, but the repetition ultimately bred
as much chaff as substance. Matthews’ new songs have become more
adventurous, but the band, musically skilled as they are, could be
taking a few more chances.

Then again, nuance would have been lost on this audience. The
biggest crowd pleasers remained “Too Much” and “Crash On Me,” and
there were volumes of young women pressed up against the barricade
literally swooning at Matthews’ smiley-face countenance.Then again,
it might have been the drinks.

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