By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer
In the '80s, it was Jimmy Buffett. Today, Cincinnati celebrates the rites of summer concerts with Dave Matthews.
Both men are average-Joe singer/songwriters with phenomenal careers, consistently selling out outdoor venues, drawing multi-generational crowds who know every song by heart.
Unlike Buffett, the Dave Matthews Band still needs a new album to put its concert sales over the top. Monday's Riverbend show was just short of a sell-out and tickets are still available for tonight's concert.
But there was no apathy in Monday's crowd, as they roared for each song and shrieked ecstatically each time Matthews - not the world's greatest MC - shruggingly offered a "Thank you very much" at the end of a song.
That may be the major difference between the two. While songs may be at the core of Margarita-mania, all the Parrot-phernalia has stolen the spotlight. But Dave Dementia is all about the music, the songs filling jukeboxes in every campus bar, played endlessly at frat parties and covered by college bands everywhere.
Having been a college mainstay since the early '90s, the DMB has been the soundtrack for several generations of alumni.
But the appeal doesn't stop there, so while Monday's show was strongest on 20- and 30-somethings, it reached all the way from teens up to card-carrying AARP members.
And from "What" to "What," they all knew the words, from the opener, "What Would You Say," to the final encore two-hours-and-20-minutes later, "What You Are."
Matthews' songs are masterfully constructed, with his fine five-man band layered onto his folkily strummed acoustic guitar. Each tune slowly builds alternating gentle passages with wild bursts of improvisation.
That whisper-to-a-scream approach gets a bit repetitious, but it always worked, raising the energy level of the crowd every time. The DMB's years of playing together have created what is arguably the most organically dynamic ensemble this side of the original Grateful Dead. These guys breathe together, tension and release ebbing and flowing as naturally as a heartbeat.
They make a good team, Boyd Tinsley's manic fiddle providing the perfect counterpoint to Leroi Moore's ultra-cool jazzman saxes, while Carter Beauford's rock-steady drumming and Stefan Lessard's clock-steady basslines provide a solid foundation. The group is augmented on tour by Butch Taylor's keyboards, but he's there for texture rather than another solo voice.
The crowd got to hear plenty of favorites Monday night -- the wistful "Bartender"; the equally alcoholic, but even more heartbroken "Grace is Gone"; he jazzy "Typical Situation"; the rocking pre-encore finale, "Too Much."
The showstopper was a stunning version of "Minarets," with its sinuous Arabian modalities building into a full-tilt rock raveup.
But while the DMB is able to make each song a long and climactic journey, the same can't be said of Monday's concert. As in the past, Matthews and company simply go from song to song until they run out of time. There's no building of tension from one piece to another, no real connection from song to song. It's the difference between a really good show and a really great one.
Dar Williams, a popular concert attraction on the singer/songwriter circuit (she regularly plays Southgate House and the 20th Century), is opening the DMB's 2003 Riverbend stand (Matthews even introduced her Monday). Her more intimate material was out of place in the amphitheater setting. But her uptempo stuff, such as the sleekly graceful folk-pop-rock cocktail "As Cool as I Am," won over the crowd, or at least those lucky enough to have arrived for the 7 p.m. show time.
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Get to it!