Dave Matthews was in a mood on Friday night (June 2). Anyone who attended the first of two back-to-back sold-out shows at Philadelphia’s Mann Center for the Performing Arts knows this to be true. They know this because it was how Matthews — in his usual, sing-songy kind of way — first addressed the crowd on a cool, beautiful evening in West Philadelphia declaring just that: “I’m in a mood.”
Matthews definitely wasn’t in a bad mood about being in the City of Brotherly Love. Despite traffic issues on the first evening that caused some concertgoers to be late, the musician whimsically told the 14,000-plus attendees later in the evening, “I love this town.”
The singer-songwriter definitely wasn’t in a mood about playing alongside his longtime musical collaborator and guitar-playing extraordinaire Tim Reynolds. Heck, even Reynolds nodding in agreement that he was in something of a mood, too.
Rather, what Matthews’ mood ultimately seemed to be about our nation’s climate control debate. Namely, about Donald Trump’s damaging decision just a few days before to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement. Like any good shade-thrower in the Trump era, he never mentioned the president by name, because he didn’t need to.
Matthews, whether intentional or not, even seemed to throw shade by including songs like “Out of My Hands” on the set list, which includes the scathing and stirringly relevant lyrics, “Now our finest hour arrives/ See the pig dressed in his finest fine/ And all the believers stand behind him and smile/ Watch the days light up with fire.”
Still, it was Matthews’ own words between songs that seemed to spell it all out.
“What am I gonna tell my grandchildren when they say, ‘What the fuck did you do [when it came to saving the Earth]?’” Matthews asked to thunderous applause at the Friday evening show. (The only Dave-ism that garnered bigger a reaction was during Saturday’s set when — discussing how the majority of scientists know global warming to be true — he put it bluntly, “When the weatherman tells you there’s a 97 percent chance of rain, you’re gonna bring a f–king umbrella.”)
Still, despite his mood about the start of planet Earth under Trump, Matthews wasn’t going to let his devoted Philly fans down. Over the course of just two days, he played 55 different songs from his catalog, ranging from the radio standards (“Crash Into Me,” “Satellite,” “So Much to Say,” “Ants Marching,” “Everyday”) to fan-friendly services (“The Stone,” “Pig,” “Spoon,” “Minarets,” “The Song That Jane Likes”).
While it’s always something of an adjustment hearing Matthews without his titular band behind him, as the songs take on a different, and certainly shorter, life on stage. Still, there’s an undeniable magic between Matthews and Reynolds when it’s just the two of them. Matthews is just as animated facially in an acoustic setting, often marveling and smiling at the seemingly improbable guitar work of the stoic, but otherworldly talented Reynolds.
Matthews may be the man we all go to see, but for hardcore devotees who consider 1999’s Live at Luther College one of the most important live albums in their inventory, they know Reynolds is a sight and sound to behold. When Reynolds isn’t elevating standards like “Warehouse” or “Tripping Billies” to face-melter status, Matthews is giving him the stage alone for his own original jaw-droppers like “Betrayal” or “Ode to the Box.”
Just as much as Reynolds shared his gifts on the guitar, Matthews proved that at even at 50-years-old, the tour-weathered star still has powerful range from his growling, commanding voice on songs such as “All Along the Watchtower” and “Don’t Drink the Water” to a quieter, yet still effective presence with something like Friday’s haunting “Gravedigger” or Saturday’s pitch-perfect cover of “Whiter Shade of Pale.”
If Matthews, a known environmentalist and Farm Aid director, was pissed off at Trump and his climate change denial, he let it be known in ways both plainly stated and sung in songs with even more gusto than usual. Matthews may not be an angry guy, but he certainly wore his emotions on his sleeve during his visit to Philadelphia during a lovely weekend in June, and it made for two undeniably powerful and unforgettable shows.
If fans weren’t already motivated to keep the Earth alive, imagining a world without Dave and Tim under the trees and stars on an early summer evening may have been just the thing to jumpstart their own environmental-saving work.