Entering the stage in near darkness with the band, there was no grand entrance or pretenses of rock star ego at the XFINITY Theater in Hartford, CT on June, 23rd. The simple lighting echoed his entrance as Dave Matthews began “That Girl is You,” a soulful, bluesy yet uplifting track from their new 2018 album Come Tomorrow.
After one “Sweet World” and “Granny,” the lighting and visuals gradually intensified. The stage centerpiece, a concentric band of fractured blocks, or a broken window design, functioning as a screen. This served to focus attention on video camera work featuring band members while also alternating with psychedelic swirling, melting patterns. It appeared relatively simple, but worked well to spotlight attention on musicians while adding visuals to DMB’s predisposition of jam journeys.
Their 1998 hit “Crush” introduces us to the “newest member of our family…. Buddy Strong on piano. It’s a great honor to share the stage with Buddy Strong,” declares Dave Matthews. This classic DMB track opens us to jazz influences; Rashawn Ross’ Trumpet solo delves into 70s style jazz-funk fusion of reminiscent of Donald Byrd and The BlackBirds. Bassist and founding member Steffan Lessard and guitarist Tim Reynolds underscore these influences by pulling us into the type of heavy funk jam grooves, originated by Funkadelic’s heady mix of psychedelic, rock- and funk. Climaxing with wall of thunder drum blast thanks to Carter Beauford, this solid extended version lasting over 15 minutes highlights both their musical individuality and cohesion.
“Thank you very much. I don’t even know what to say” acknowledges Dave Matthews in response to declarations from male and female fans. “ We love you Dave!” I have no doubt they really do.
There is a palpable feeling of community, inclusion in the way the band performs both on and off stage. DMB has a strong history of community; just this past January, DMB was involved with Aaron Neville, Hurray for the Riff Raff, and Trey Anastasio for A Concert for Island Relief, addressing the underfunded and continued issues of the Hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico, U.S. & British Virgin Islands. However, that is just part of a long list of their positive involvement raising awareness, funds and community for a host of causes.
Balloons gently bounce around the auditorium and ganja wafts in gentle breezes; the atmosphere is intoxicatingly fun. Dave Matthews genuinely appears to be excited to play with his band, at times DMB is just a moniker, as they often play as an ensemble. He happily gives time and space on stage, and many songs are collaboratively written, sharing credits with other members. Their work is often playful, interactive, like jazz musicians, who strive to be in the moment and express a magic that is not always the same as before.
“Some songs are old songs. Some songs are new songs. Some songs are in between songs. This is all of these,” says Dave Matthews as he begins “Can’t Stop.” And that was the feeling of the night with a range of tracks that satisfied the need to deliver classics as well as offering beautiful examples from the present.