The Dave Matthews Band, by nature, does a big show. But for the seventh show of its North American summer tour, Mother Nature added even more drama to the mix.
With flashes of lightning that rivaled the DMB’s own opulent light show — spurring spontaneous fan reactions that had nothing to do with the group’s onstage performance — and plenty of thunder and rain, the weather added a bit more spectacle to the proceedings. But that didn’t dampen the spirits of the Daveheads, among the most stalwart fans in all of rock, and Matthews and company responded in kind, with a two-hour and 45-minute evening of long jams and sing-along favorites that made good on his following’s fervor.
At this point in its career, 14 years since its debut album, the DMB is iconic enough that out-of-the-blue surprises are few and far between. Like most of the band’s turnouts, the near-sellout Detroit crowd knew all the words (even to songs that haven’t been released) and had an instinctive feel for the group’s improvisational dynamics. Much like its forebears in the Grateful Dead’s Deadhead corps, they enjoyed playing “What’s the next song?” guessing games. Though usually wrong, they still wound up singing along, even if they professed to be disappointed by the choice.
With that in mind, Matthews smartly aspires not to reinvent the wheel but to tweak the machine each time out. For the DMB’s summer tour, Dave’s put together a potent lineup, augmenting the core quintet with longtime friends Tim Reynolds on electric guitar and force-of-nature trumpeter Rashawn Ross; rather than mere adjuncts, they each enjoyed as much of the spotlight on Monday as anyone else in the band, with Reynolds’ shining during “Corn Bread” and “Two Step” and Ross blowing fierce solos into “Warehouse” and “You Might Die Trying.”
The 19-song show — which followed a solid opening set by Alejandro Escovedo — contained a few pleasing eyebrow-raisers, starting with the unreleased but oft-played “The Idea of You.” DMB also turned out a savage take of Pink Floyd’s “Money,” giving it a contemporary spin with video of oil fields and automobiles — subtle but still to the point — and accented by a stinging closing solo by Reynolds.
Neil Young’s “Hey Hey My My (Into the Black),” meanwhile, has become a DMB staple but was still a welcome encore inclusion, started by Matthews solo, with the band joining in the first chorus. A pensive rendition of “Sister” performed by a stripped-down quartet version of the DMB was also one of the night’s highlights.
And, of course, the DMB offered up plenty of what its fans really come for — the long, improvisational numbers that laid individual instrumental dynamics atop taut, trancey grooves. Surrounded by video, including a stage-wide screen at the rear and five LED boards above and beside the band, the seven musicians passed the ball with lusty exuberance on the gospel-flavored opener, “Everyday,” the playful “Dancing Nancies” (violinist Boyd Tinsley’s showpiece), a frenetic “Too Much” and an anthemic “Tripping Billies.”
Only “Dreaming Tree” fell short of the mark early in the show, lapsing into an aimless, plodding outro during which the DMB seemed to be playing for itself and couldn’t quite finess how, or when, to end it.
But if the DMB crowd could weather the rain, it had no trouble bouncing back from just one outright stumble over the course of a long concert. Unsullied by the elements, Matthews and his cohorts caused lightning to strike more than once during their time on stage.