Tuesday, June 22, 1999

Drums drive dynamic Matthews Band show

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Dave Matthews Band hosted a rock 'n' roll Father's Day at Riverbend. Sunday's sellout of 20,008 included plenty of middle-aged dads with offspring from preteens to twentysomethings, united by the folk/jazz/rock band that's one of summer's hottest tickets.

        The DMB's 2 hours and 15 minutes of music packed all the wallop of its November show at the Crown (now Firstar Center) with none of the flab. The instrumental noodling that made that arena concert occasionally slow was nowhere to be found Sunday. Boyd Tinsley's violin solos and LeRoi Moore's sax excursions were in service of the unstoppable grooves being laid down by drummer Carter Beauford. Songs were kept short and to the point.

        Mr. Beauford remains the DMB's MVP. One of rock's best drummers, his funky rhythms kept a powerful forward motion throughout the night, anchoring his colleagues' wildest instrumental flights. Thanks to him, this was one jam band with muscle.

        The band is still touring in support of 1998's Before These Crowded Streets. But the evening's opener was “Satellite,” from the 1993 independent release, Remember Two Things. While the DMB's most recent, darkest album was touched on during the evening, the clear favorites came from earlier releases, 1996's Crash and 1994's Under the Table and Dreaming.

        But from the gusto with which the crowd sang along on such familiar DMB fare as “Crash Into Me” (into which Mr. Matthews tossed Little Feat's “Dixie Chicken”), “Too Much” (the show closer) and “Tripping Billies” (the second and last encore), Mr. Matthews is in no danger of losing his audience.

        The DMB continues to be a pretty surprising bunch of rock gods. The only guitar in the band is Mr. Matthews' strummed acoustic. Solos are provided by Mr. Tinsley and Mr. Moore, the vocal nature of their instruments giving the band a more fluid sound than the usual guitar groups.

        Front man Mr. Matthews is a rock star in the same sense that Tom Hanks (whom he somewhat resembles) is a movie star. Both have a likable, “regular guy” presence. Mr. Matthews didn't even seem particularly comfortable talking to the crowd, limiting between-song patter to “Thank you very much,” or, when feeling particularly chatty, “Thank you very, very much.”

        The stage set was equally minimalist. The band played on the plain boards on the same level as their amps. Mr. Beauford sat atop a simple drum riser.

        While the lighting was a bit fancier, the band won the crowd with music, not flash. Which is the same way it built itself from club act to amphitheater draw.

        As a songwriter, Mr. Matthews' subject matter is not typical pop fare, as in the ominous “Don't Drink the Water.” The band's sound is equally unorthodox, ranging from the fairly straight rock of “Too Much” to the country-folk of Lefty Frizzell's “Long Black Veil” (the first encore) to the Middle Eastern modalities of “The Last Stop.”

        When everything works, that mix of thoughtful lyrics and accomplished musicianship can be a very potent combination. Sunday, it all came together, without a whiff of self-indulgence.

        Gov't Mule had the self-indulgence franchise for the evening, opening with that far more traditional jam band form — the bluesy power trio. Warren Haynes is the guitarist who put a fire under the Allman Brothers Band for the first half of the '90s. But his songwriting continues to lag far behind his fretboard mastery.

        The most memorable songs from Gov't Mule's 50-minute set were Son House's Delta gospel-blues “John the Revelator” and Mr. Haynes' southern-fried Beatles cover “She Said.”


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