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CONCERT REVIEW Dave Matthews Band's talents shine brightly through the rain

Tuesday, July 04, 2000

By Scott Mervis, Weekend Editor, Post-Gazette

All in all, it was a beautiful night for an arena concert.

But it sure would have been hard to have squeezed those 40,000 or so soggy people in Three Rivers Stadium last night into that dome across the river.

The occasion was a show by the Dave Matthews Band, one that has made the dubious leap into stadiums with its summer excursion 2000.

A stadium seems an unlikely place for that little band from Charlottesville, Va., that first turned up as unknowns at the H.O.R.D.E. Festival. It's not the ideal place for a band that emphasizes musicianship over showmanship, for a bunch of jazz cats toting violins and saxophones.

But there's something about Matthews, with all that boyish charm, singing "hike up your skirt a little more/show the world to me" that just drives 'em wild. It was one of the more popular lines of the night, a lyric that, like one of those in Springsteen's "Thunder Road," comes back at him 10 times louder than he could ever push the sound system alone.

"Crash Into Me" was an early thrill in a show packed with crowd favorites. The DMB, in the spirit of the Grateful Dead, is the kind of band whose set lists get posted and analyzed on the Internet. No two are alike, and the big hits are never guaranteed.

But maybe because of the rain, Matthews, the man in black, was feeling generous. He came out with "What Would You Say," the quirky acoustic funk song that made the band famous but is often cast aside. It gave sax player LeRoi Moore the kind of room to stretch out in ways that sax players rarely do outside of smooth jazz clubs.

"The Song That Jane Likes," a reference to Matthew's sister, was a platform for violinist Boyd Tinsely, who gets a wild reaction from fans with every stroke.

Matthews then announced they had some "little things to get out of the way" before they got to more favorites. That would be new stuff.

The DMB is actually in the midst of recording a new studio record while introducing some of the material in the set. The standout among the new songs was "Grey Street," with the crashing dynamics and group interplay that characterizes the best of their stuff.

"Rhyme & Reason" and "Too Much" were both edgy dance songs that had the beer-happy crowd up and shouting the words back at him.

Along with the beautiful love song "Say Goodbye" came more of the rain that had soaked the place all day. While some folks huddled under plastic, most embraced it as a sensual pleasure along with the music.

Some songs weren't really worth standing in the rain for. Personally, I liked "#41," with its exciting extended jam, but I could have done without "#36," which just meandered along, despite the best efforts of backup singers Tawatha, Cindy and Brenda. Matthews then showed his love for Dylan and the Band with a gospel-tinged reading of "Long Black Veil" and a furious version of "All Along the Watchtower," built from an intricate duet between Matthews and bassist Stefan Lessard.

Before they'd leave, the DMB would hit more crowd-pleasers like "Satellite" and "Drive In, Drive Out." While the stadium scene didn't do much for the subtleties of their complex sound, it certainly heightened the communal feeling, of which there was plenty last night.

Opener Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals had the songs but lacked the star power to sell them. Harper is a fine singer and guitarist, but a sit-down one, and that doesn't cut it from a hundred yards away.

The muddled mix didn't do him any favors. In fact, I could hear the pigeon nesting in the 220 level louder than the vocals. Like a slightly more organic Lenny Kravitz, Harper did some soulful playing while touching on the same timeless influences of Hendrix and Zeppelin.

Ozomatli, on the other hand, was pure energy, zig-zagging around the stage as they banged out a set of Latin funk and hip-hop. It deserved to be heard by more than the few thousand who had completed their tailgating. If the stadium had been full, the place would have been rockin' for the Ozomatli crew.

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