Scene: Sold Out. The crowd was diverse. On one side of us sat a couple in their mid-to-late forties and on the other side was a group that were about 19. Dave has certainly generated mass appeal over the years and it is no wonder he plays sold out arena shows on a regular basis. Our seats were in the upper deck about halfway back in the arena apprently in an area the sound techs forgot to account for as the sound was completely miserable until we moved from our seats. While the set was designed very, very well. The set designer again forgot to account for the seats in the upper deck that weren’t directly in front of the stage. These are mistakes that U2 didn’t make when I saw them in an arena but hey, if I’m comparing this stage set up to U2 then it must be pretty damn good, right?
Opener: Robert Randolph and the Family Band. I have been listening to Robert Randolph for about 5 years now and he is one hell of a pedal steel player. Unfortunately we didn’t get the most out of his set as we were hampered by the horrible sound but he did put his trademark energy into the show, tipping his pedal steel over and kicking his chair out of the way to strike a more “rock-n-roll” pose. Had they turned the lights down all the way and had people actually shown up for the 7pm start time of the show, Randolph and company would have really warmed things up. As it was the half-lit 1/3 full arena barely got into his set. Wow did things change when the lights went down for DMB at about 8:40.
Dave Matthews Band: This was probably about my 20th Dave Matthews Band show and they have come a long way since I started going to see them in 1995. Still the same core group of musicians they have obviously added some serious personnel to their entourage. The stage was vaccumed before they came out and there was not a single cord running across the floor or road case out of place. It was a picture of order up there.
When the lights went down and the band walked out it was deafening. Young and old, male and female screaming like little girls and the band hadn’t even done anything yet! When they finally started into the first song I felt a little rush myself as I realized it was “One Sweet World” from their very first album. What a great song to open with. They followed it up with “Proudest Monkey” from the Crash album and then the set took off with “Satellite.” The curtains behind the stage fell and exposed 3 massive video screens that displayed the band members in all their sweaty glory. The beauty of these screens was that they did what is so very difficult in an arena show, they made it feel somewhat intimate (if you were sitting at an angle where you could see the screens). Each screen was fed independantly so Dave, Boyd (violin) and Carter (drums) could all be seen at once on a seperate screen. I was a great stage set-up despite the fact that at least 30% of the arena didn’t get the intended effect.
About halfway through the set we got up from our seats and set out to find a better viewing / hearing angle. We found a tunnel directly across the arena from the stage where the usher didn’t seem to mind that we set up camp and we really got the full intended effect of the show and that certainly changed my feelings about seeing this band again.
The set consisted of some of the great older songs of the DMB catalog. In addition to “One Sweet World,” “Proudest Monkey,” and “Satellite” (mentioned above) the band played great versions of “Crash Into Me,” “Dancing Nancies,” “Warehouse” and the testosterone fueled “All Along The Watchtower” with the lightning quick pick of Robert Randolph on hand to leave the audience wanting more as the band left the stage.
In another flashback to the early days of this band, Dave emerged on his own for the first encore. The song “Sister” is a relatively new song performed first in May of this year. It is really nice to see that Dave is still playing songs solo before getting the whole band involved. Some of his best material has evolved that way and it is clear he still has the ability to write powerful songs.
As we left the arena to the thunderous applause as Carter broke into the stacatto drum intro of “Ants Marching” I knew that I had witnessed a top level arena show and, while it has a ways to go before I’ll give it full credit, this is a band that will be around for the duration. They have what it takes to be a U2 or Rolling Stones. If they keep refining that arena show there will be no reason not to go see them in 5, 10 or even 20 years.
Stage Presence: B+
Set/Light Show: A-