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Dave Matthews Band: Continue To Be The ‘Best of What’s Around’

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I couldn’t get us to Irvine fast enough. I felt like Steve McQueen in “Bullitt” attempting to leave June, July and August comfortably in the rear view mirror. The dog days of summer seemed to pack a rather demonic bite this year. At least for me. I’m talking foaming at the mouth, red beady eyes…You know what? Just Google “Cujo” and you’ll get my drift. In fact, I think the only person I know (not personally) that had a stellar summer was professional golfer Rory McIlroy. And North West. Oh, and definitely Allison Williams. Ever since Memorial Day I said “If we can just get to September…” And we did. By the skin of our teeth. On Labor Day, I wanted to hire the remaining von Trapp kids to come over and sing “So Long, Farewell” to the white linens and seersucker shorts that now hang in the way, way back of the closet. Looking to end summer on a literal high note and needing to usher autumn in with some royal fanfare, all roads led my Jeep Liberty to the final Dave Matthews Band performance of the year in eternally sunny Southern California.

As is the norm in SoCal, traffic delayed our arrival at the Verizon Amphitheater by a few minutes. Call it a “Typical Situation” which, coincidentally, was the song being played by the time we found our seats. This being our first and only DMB show for the year, we were blown away at the fresh acoustic take of the now 20 year old song. Where Dave or accompanying guitarist Tim Reynolds splinter off into a riff, the entire band somehow took the song into a salsa like jam fit for balmy nights in Havana. Arguably the most recognizable anthem for the band “Ants Marching” followed. Upon singing “lights down”, the house lights went up and the guys took a brief intermission, thus ending their acoustic set.

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Once the amps were plugged in, the band opened their electric set with “Best of What’s Around”, accompanied by the angelic vocal stylings of the Lovely Ladies; Tawatha Agee, Candace Anderson and Sharon Bryant. As the light show cascaded over the devout 16,000 plus assembled, my soul began to glow. In that moment, I forgot the summer doldrums. The worries melted away. With my girlfriend by my side, a radiant moon shining above, surrounded by LoVE, harmonies striking chords deep within, I began to think this is the best of what’s around. Next up, two songs from the five time platinum “Crash” album were played; “Drive In, Drive Out” and heartfelt epic “#41.” The band continued their uptempo push with “Why I Am”, eventually settling down with “Away From The World” single “Mercy” featuring Dave on piano and a long, meditative jam to round out the song. “Grey Street” would follow with its typically resplendent “battle of the horn section” followed by “Lover Lay Down.” Many in the house took the title literally and sat to catch their breath, wipe the sweat from their brow and fall into the songs trance. Sticking to the oldies, Dave strummed the ominous opening notes of “Dancing Nancies” wondering could have been lost “somewhere in Irvine”, eventually segueing into “Warehouse.” The stage hands would soon appear again, setting up three more mics stage left, announcing the return of the Lovely Ladies, out to sing universally loved “Everyday.” I’ll admit, as many times as I have heard the song both live and recorded, something about the lyrical imagery, the notes perfectly in Dave’s vocal sweet spot, always stirs emotions. The Beatles said it first, but in my opinion, Dave said it better, “All you need is love.” Continuing the love fest, the band broke into “You and Me.” Knowing a 50 mile drive home awaited us, we soon made our way up and out of the theater. As we marched to our car, the band played “Can’t Stop”, fitting for our shuffling feet and “Stay”, as much as we would have loved to. I’m told the encore featured Dave playing his “Belly Full” solo, followed by “Rooftop” and “Shake Me Like A Monkey” officially closing the 2014 summer tour.

On Facebook, Twitter and the like, much has been made about the setlists of late. A rift of sorts has pitted devout fans against each other with one side begging for more versatility in the shows lineup while the other staunchly defends Dave’s decisions to play what he sees fit. While I understand the legitimacy of both arguments, let me say this; If you happen to be lucky enough to catch Sir Paul McCartney in concert, you know “Hey Jude” is going to wind up somewhere in the encore. If you see the Rolling Stones, “Beast of Burden” will inevitably be played. Billy Joel is going to belt out “New York State of Mind” no matter what state he’s in. Rihanna’s going to sing “Umbrella” on a cloudless night and on and on we go. Sure, it’s predictable. But those songs are their classics. The lyrics and melodies bring on a welcomed sense of nostalgia for both artist and fan and that is why they play them, sometimes more often than some would like. For the artist, there’s really no way to win the “wish of setlist demands.” If they play too many cult classics, they lose the majority of the house. If they play solely from their early catalog, they alienate new fans.

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We live in a day and age where we have so many options, so many (and some would argue too many) choices, oftentimes at our fingertips. For 40 years, Burger King preached its customers should have it solely “your way.” Well, with concerts? We can’t always have it “our way.” These bands, these performers cannot appease 20,000 individual appetites night after night. These men and women are millionaires many times over. They don’t have to keep hitting the grueling and taxing open road year after year. They could hang up their guitars, rest their weary vocal chords and sit comfortably around their infinity pools off the coast of some Virgin Island, sipping mojitos til the end of their days at any moment. And we should be consciously aware of that fact. For now, I think we should leave the pre-show decisions in the capable hands of the maestros we so adore and continue to appreciate the geniuses they are no matter what song they play or how often they play it. At the end of the day, we need to be grateful they’re still playing, or in the words of Elton John, “still standing.”

-Photos courtesy of Michael Roman