The Band: Dave Matthews Band, August 23 2014. A band originally out of Charlottesville, Virginia, DMB roared onto the scene in the early 1990s and is going strong two decades later (yes, that first album with “Ants Marching” is twenty years old this year.) While rock to its core, DMB has always blended in jazz and funk and even a little bluegrass to create its distinctive, expansive sound, with sax, trumpets, and violin layering over electric guitars.
The Venue: The Greek Theater in Berkeley. Simply put, there is no better place to be on a clear, warm Bay Area night than this WPA-era Greek at the edge of the UC Berkeley campus. Well, let me amend that: when a 6.0 earthquake hit nearby Napa a few hours after we all filed out, I was glad to not still be there. But for the DMB show – perfect.
The Company: My best friend Maria, her husband Ted, and their youngest son, my godson Ethan. Dave Matthews is to Maria what Neil Finn is to me, and it’s perverse that it’s taken this long for me to finally go with her to see a show. But he usually plays the Bay Area when I’m at Family Camp. So getting to see this show was a more-than-satisfactory consolation prize for missing camp this year.
By the way, once I saw Dave do his shimmy dance, I totally got it. You don’t have to be a great dancer. Just a confident one.
Devoted is only the tip of the iceberg – more than any other show I’ve seen except maybe the Grateful Dead, DMB attracts lifers. Maria and Ted have seen him perform a gajillion times and were there for the second time during this three-night run at the Greek; Jenn and her family were going to be there all three nights in a row. The couple behind us had seen them in the tens of times, the guy two rows in front was wearing a shirt from a 1997 show. Once you see a Dave concert, I think you are locked in for life. Which I am totally ok with.
Jenn’s third adjective? “Altered.” Yes. I watched a guy take a huge hit from a joint and then simply do a face plant. People were relaaaaaaxed and shouty and happy.
Age Humiliation Factor: Not even.
Ted made the observation that there were a lot of baseball hats in use, hats that looked like they were probably hiding bald spots. Age range in our immediate section ran from 12 to at least 70.
Opening Band: Dave Matthews Band
Yes, DMB was its own opening band – thrifty! The first half of the show was acoustic, with the musicians clustered at the front of the stage and performing a set that would have been at home in a tiny theater. But thanks to the acoustics at the Greek, everyone including the folks on the lawn seats behind the stadium got pulled in to the performance. Then they took a break and came back as the electrified headliner act.
Because of the sign language interpreters. On our side of the stadium, two women took turns signing the concert. Honest to god, a couple times when I couldn’t tell whether the DMB lyric was “digging” or “drinking,” both of which play heavily into the DMB song catalog, I’d look over to the interpreters for a clue. That they kept the beat and a rocking tempo with their hips and shoulders the whole time they were signing was super cool. New bucket list item: become an ASL concert signer.
Worth Hiring the Sitter? Bring them along for the best of what’s around.
The show was fabulous – the band was tight, Dave sounded great, and at almost four hours between the acoustic and electric sets, the crowd got its money’s worth. (I am pretty sure I would have slept through the earthquake because I was so tired after the show, were it not for my husband saying, “Nancy wake up, it’s an earthquake!” So thanks for checking on us and yes, we were fine.) The highlights for me were “Grey Street” and DMB’s cover of “Burning Down the House” which got the whole amphitheater amped. I really like the richness of their sound, the way the sax and horns add a jazz note to the proceedings.
The family ambiance, though, extended to the way the band members interacted among themselves, and the way the crowd engaged with them like they were old friends. It’s not as much of a Cult of Dave as I’d expected. The drummer would play a solo and I’d hear people around me saying, “Carter sounds great!” or, when violinist Boyd Tinsley stood up to play a duet with Dave, they cheered his name.
The fans just seem really connected to the individual players in the band, and the musicians don’t take the adoration for granted – at the end of the show Carter Beauford, the drummer, carefully handed out drumsticks to the kids in the crowd, including my godson, like a beneficent uncle. (Ted had acted all gentricool by putting Ethan on his shoulders and getting to the front of the crowd, which helped.) It made me understand how awful it must have been for the band and its longtime fans when founding member and sax player LeRoi Moore passed away in an accident in 2008.
Now that I’ve been inculcated into the DMB fold last weekend, I can see why people keep going back for me. See you on the next tour?
This is my favorite DMB song. They didn’t play it, so I’ll have to go next time and keep my fingers crossed.