Review: Dave Matthews Band digs deep, goes big for career-spanning set at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre
You could argue the gimmick of Dave Matthews Band's 2014 summer tour -- two sets, one acoustic, one electric -- was engineered to ward off whiffs of the band becoming a legacy act.
This has never seemed like it might be a problem. The band's catalog is deep enough, its setlists diverse enough, that they can draw 15,000 fans to Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on a muggy, muddy Wednesday without batting an eye. They've played this venue 10 of the last 11 summers, and no one has ever complained. Why change?
Well, whatever shake-up the band felt they needed, it worked. For three and a half hours, Matthews' merry miscreants zigged and zagged, jammed and jogged through a career-spanning set, pleasing first-timers with huge hits and long-timers with whimsical, noodly deep cuts. If the band considered the lengthly split set a challenge to themselves, fans would have to say they met it with aplomb.
It was clear from the get-go that Dave's opening acoustic set was to be no campus-quad yawnfest. Bringing seven members onstage, including dynamic drummer Carter Beauford, means DMB loses none of their ragga-digga funk on songs like Recently or the playful, onomatopoeic Minarets, which concluded with a rainbow peeking from the peach-fuzz clouds beyond the lawn.
The band indulged its eclectic side in the electric set, following swamy, devilish opener Don't Drink the Water with Seek Up, an endless, free-form jazz jam dominated by trumpeter Rashawn Ross and alto saxman Jeff Coffin. Drunken Soldier was virtuosic in its Yes-like progginess, and Shake Me Like a Monkey, with its explosive Tower of Power brass, proved a worthy spiritual descendent of Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer (a song they've been playing on this tour, but alas, not on Wednesday).
As always, scruffy Brother Dave was the ringleader, though he didn't say much beyond thanking the crowd in his Hobo-Joe mumble (sample patter: "What's happening, y'all? It's humid as a dog's balls. I hope you have a good time this evening").
But the way Matthews smirks, skulks and sneaks around the stage is infectious, even for the nose-bleeders in the back who can't see his wonderful, wandering, waggling eyebrows. Hearing him squeal "Little bay-bayyy!" on So Much To Say is enough to send any house into a spinning, grinning frenzy; even the ensuing Too Much fake-out couldn't kill the party vibe. And on the night's final song, a cover of the Talkjng Heads' Burning Down the House, ol' Dave gave those gravelly vocal cords a heave-ho workout, the likes of which we haven't heard on an actual DMB LP in years.
Unlike on some past tours, Dave hasn't shied from his biggest hits on this trek, which may be why Tampa fans got relatively straightforward versions of Crash Into Me and Satellite; an extended jam of Crush; and a rollicking, life-affirming rendition of Ants Marching that featured wild acoustic bass solos from Stefan Lessard, and Boyd Tinsley roaming center stage while fiddling like Johnny from Georgia.
So in the end, did the acoustic/electric divide really matter? Depends on who you ask. There are fans who dissect each DMB setlist with Talmudic obsession -- Setlist.fm, for example, notes this was the first time they've opened with #27, a fact that must mean something to someone, somewhere. I'm a mere Dave dabbler, so I don't mind hearing the hits (although #41 would've been a nice surprise).
On some level Matthews must care deeply about pleasing both types of fan, the casual and the obsessive; hence this tour's creatively expanded set. If the challenge helped Dave Matthews Band dig a little deeper after 23 peripatetic years, I applaud them for it. But they needn't worry about becoming a legacy act just yet. They've clearly got a lot of life left.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*