Dave Matthews Band  played last night at a packed KFC Yum! Center . Sorry to all you naysayers out there (a few Tweeters thought my commentating was breathless and giddy), but they put on an incredible show that concert goers of all ages and varying character enjoyed.
Jimmy Cliff  kicked off the concert with some popular reggae beats. You’d never be able to tell Cliff was 64 years old by the energy he showed on stage. He was light on his feet and could still belt some Jamaican socio-political melodies which were enhanced with rich harmonies created by his backup singers. The crowd favorite was his performance of “I Can See Clearly Now” which he performed for the movie Cool Runnings. The band was great, but it seemed like a slightly miss matched opening act. The Lumineers opening for the second half of the tour makes more sense as they match the genre of Dave Matthews more and are less well known. This may be why attendance wasn’t great during Jimmy Cliff’s set. It appeared approximately half the audience arrived after Cliff performed.
After the stage crew cleared off the stage I noticed a stagehand sweeping the carpet on the stage. It made me wonder if this was a sign that Dave Matthews is high maintenance. After all why would they need the stage swept? This was just one of those small things that caught my eye as odd having performed with various bands and orchestras.
After everything was setup the Dave Matthews Band took the stage and the crowd roared. The lighting and staging was quite impressive. Lasers and lights were beaming across the audience and the video background showed up close footage of all the band members and occasionally artsy images of puppets, masked people, roads, subway tunnels, elevators, and nature. The imagery was dark, sometimes bordering on creepy (especially during "The Riff" when the screen showed dolls/puppets hanging), but was clearly inspired by the music.
The music was great as well as the presentation. The ensemble as a whole was tight. They hit breaks, transitions, and changes in tempo flawlessly. Every musician in the band (Carter Beauford- drums, Stefan Lessard- bass, Rashawn Ross- trumpet, Jeff Coffin- saxophone, Tim Reynolds- guitar, Dave Matthews- vocals/guitar, and Boyd Tinsley- violin) is fantastic at what he does. Lessard, Ross, and Reynolds got the job done and performed well, but they didn’t really stand out like their other band mates.
Beauford stood out on drums. He showed insane control and precision in his playing never missing a beat even during odd time changes and transitions. As well as his unmatched dexterity and open hand drumming style, he showed great versatility in his style from jazz to rock, pop, rhythm and blues, and country. One of the highlights of the concert was his ridiculous drum solo in “Two Step.” The creativity he pulls out of a four count is unmatched. Beauford is the glue that allows the Dave Matthews Band to meld the different genres that create their multi-styled sound.
Tinsley and Coffin add flavor to the group. Boyd Tinsley is one of the most talented pop violinists in the world. Tinsley has a way of phrasing lyrical lines and provoking emotional complexity in his sound. Then in more upbeat driven songs Tinsley adds an edge to his sound and drives passages that build up and build up until you think they will never climax. The energy is amazing in his playing and he has a great jazz violin tone which at points sounds influenced by Jean-Luc Ponty. Tinsley's solo in "#41" is a bit different each time and last's night was the best I have ever heard it perforned. Tinsley is the epitome of a cool violinist.
Jeff Coffin is one of the best living jazz saxophonists. He joined Dave Matthews in 2008 after the passing of original sax player LeRoi Moore. Coffin is capable of playing crazy riffs that most people can’t and can wail on the sax like nobody’s business. It’s all about the spirit and breath of the music he plays, and this is evident in his improvisation. Coffin also played ‘double sax’ which is where he played two saxophones at a time. This allows him to play alternate parts and harmonies with one mouth. That takes a whole lot of wind control and strong facial muscles.
Then there’s the leader of the group, Dave Matthews. I have found myself indifferent on his vocals. Although he doesn’t sing out of tune like Taylor Swift, isn’t completely nasally like Scott Stapp, and the tone of his voice isn’t horrible, it does bother me to some extent that I can’t understand half of what he is saying. His vocals are not ones to be hummed to which may bother some people. I’ve never been one to pay a lot of attention to vocals so his style of singing doesn’t affect my fondness for the band as a whole. The instrumental composition of their songs makes up for the incoherent lyrics. Although Matthews’ vocals are mediocre, he is a very talented writer.
One very cool and unexpected surprise was the special appearance of Roy Wooten a.k.a Futureman on drums. Having two former Flecktones (Wooten and Coffin) on stage together was a nostalgic treat to top off an energy packed concert. The show ended with a collection of songs for the encore that the audience and myself loved: "Christmas Song," "Country Blues Improv," "Halloween," and "Tripping Billies."
Photos: courtesy of Max Sharp