This was probably the first time in years that all 11,117 seats were full at the stadium, as the Syracuse Chiefs typically draw a quarter of that on game days. The stage was set up in center field, and those who have ever been to a game know how hard it is to see the center fielder. Now, consider 7,000 people standing on the diamond with sound equipment at the periphery, and that’s what the people “saw.” But they didn’t seem to mind.
Perhaps it was because the scene before the concert was one of the biggest block parties in this city in recent memory. The gates to the stadium parking lot opened at 10 a.m. and those who called in sick to work wasted no time trying to catch a pre-game buzz as the $10 parking spaces were bumper-to-bumper by noon. Car stereos were blasting from every direction and several beer-pong tables were set up among the aisles as cases of beer and bottles of liquor and hidden galaxies of concealed psychoactive contraband were free-flowing; the crowd was on a good-vibe good trip.
And since there were only three port-a-johns stationed in the parking lot, guys and gals instead found relief whizzing in the open air. The other suckers who waited in lines as long as a football field for privacy had to wait close to an hour before they could unclench their legs.
And then there was the concert. After a 45-minute intermission after opener Donovan Frankenreiter left the stage, the DMB kicked off with “You Might Die Trying” from their 2005 album Stand Up. This song set the tone for the current journey the band’s on, as founding saxophonist Leroi Moore passed away in August 2008 after an ATV accident. The “GrooGrux King” in the new album’s title is a reference to Moore, who earned that nickname for the laid-back grooves he inspired his fellow bandmates to jam to.
Before his death, Moore completed a handful of tracks for the album and Jeff Coffin—best known for his work with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones—was asked to join the band to help finish the recording. He has since become a full-time touring member of the group, joined by Rashawn Ross on trumpet to complete the DMB horn section, along with the original core lineup: drummer Carter Beauford, bassist Stefan Lessard, Boyd Tinsley on violin and, of course, South Africa native Matthews on guitar and lead vocals. Virtuoso guitarist Tim Reynolds, a longtime Matthews collaborator, has also joined the band for this tour. (Word on the street is he was spotted flipping through CDs at the Sound Garden in Armory Square the day before the show.)
Of the 20 songs played at Alliance Bank Stadium, eight were from the GrooGrux album, which bowed at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart when it was released in June and has been the band’s most critically acclaimed album since 1998’s Before These Crowded Streets (RCA). It’s most likely because the DMB has returned to the loose jam-band-ish groove of the early days and it sounds like they’re actually interested in playing music again, instead of the monotony the last few albums produced.
Each member of the group possesses superb skills on their given instrument, except for Matthews, who plays an average Taylor-brand acoustic guitar, and each individual had their moment to shine during many lengthy jams. Tinsley, who’s built like he could play middle linebacker for the New York Giants, makes his violin look like a toothpick as he clenches it under his chin, giving the band its distinct sound. The crowd let out a roar of euphonic approval after his solo during the hit “Don’t Drink the Water” as they grooved into the last verse.
MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO
While the DMB sound has been embraced by legions, those that don’t necessarily see past all the lead singer’s mumbling (it was nearly impossible to comprehend what he was saying between songs) probably point to the fact that there’s no real musical variation from one tune to the next. Matthews has a limited vocal range and, while Tinsley’s violin distinguishes the DMB sound, it also dominates it and keeps it static as he uses no effects pedals or any kind of modulation to change the tone of his instrument from one song to the next.
But there were flashes of brilliance during the show, as evidenced by two of the band’s biggest hits that were played: “Crush” from Before These Crowded Streets, as well as “Crash Into Me” from the 1996 album Crash. These two songs epitomize everything rabid fans see in the band: a perfect blend of strings, harmony, Matthews’ eccentricity and lyrics that everyone can sing along to. The whole compendium of males in the audience—and a few females, too—reveled at the chance to sing the “Hike up your skirt a little more, and show your world to me” line from “Crash Into Me.”
Whether or not tracks from GrooGrux become staples in DMB sets 10 years from now remains to be seen. Still, it’s tough to envision even die-hards singing “I like coffee with my toast and jelly, but I’d rather be licking from your back to your belly,” from “Shake Me Like a Monkey” from the new album, with the same passion as they exhibit for “Crash Into Me” and the earlier hits.
Other standout songs included a cover of Peter Gabriel’s 1977 hit “Solsbury Hill,” “Grey Street,” a rare performance of “#40” and the final encore of the Jimi Hendrix via Bob Dylan cover of “All Along the Watchtower.”
Trying to tell a Dave Matthews Band fanatic anything different than they’re not the best band in the world is like trying to tell a Red Sox fan that the New York Yankees are the kings of baseball. And as long as non-fanatics are not forced to listen to the band every day, it’s definitely worth going to see one of their shows every now and then. Jam on.
Crowd controlled: The throng waiting to get inside Alliance Bank Staduim was, for the most part, well behaved. MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO