It was designed from the start to be a night entirely focused on Dave Matthews.
His was the face splashed across the t-shirts, the name shouted from the devoted fans’ mouths. He was the opening act as an acoustic guitarist, and he was the headliner as an electric one.
He’s the ringleader of the timeless and talented band that carries his name. But Tuesday night at PNC Music Pavilion, it was the band – the whole band – that took center stage.
Which was, of course, exactly how Matthews wanted it to be. The kind of performer whose vocals are one small part of a dynamic musical ensemble, Matthews shined in the moments when he stepped back from the microphone. He’d turn to Stefan Lessard on his left, tapping his foot and strumming his fingers, and the two would just play: riffing off each other, stretching each song longer than the last.
Other times he’d step out of the spotlight entirely, letting his six bandmates surrounding him play their own solos to carry the set along. At one point, during a particularly long rendition of “Jimi Thing,” Matthews stayed on the sidelines, smiling and nodding appreciatively as Tim Reynolds, Boyd Tinsley, Carter Beauford and Rashawn Ross each indulged in a series of vibrant, wandering instrumentals that spanned nearly 15 minutes and elicited whoops and catcalls from the appreciative crowd.
Then Matthews was back, singing part of a verse in falsetto before cackling wildly – musically – into the microphone and reminding everyone that no matter how much fun you thought you were having, he was having more.
Dave and his boys did what they could to play a varied sampling from their repertoire – an impressive gamut of recorded and live albums released over two decades, five of which reached No. 1. They pulled most of their nearly four-hour set from two albums: 1994’s “Under the Table and Dreaming” and 2012’s “Away from the World,” making for a two-act show that pleased old fans and new.
Even from the stage, Matthews, 47, seemed to feel the crowd’s excitement, at one point telling them he’d like to “kiss them on the lips.” Below, fans tossed beach balls and roared as he plucked the first three notes of “Two Step” because they knew, already, what was coming next.
“I’ve been coming for a decade,” a woman said at one point, clearly proud of the status this gave her. “A decade? That’s nothing!” a man behind her shouted. For fans of a band who’s been around for more than twice that, whose most avid followers rent trailers and RVs to travel from one show to the next, coming once a year isn’t enough.
Even when it’s Dave Matthews opening for Dave Matthews, there can’t be enough Dave Matthews in a night.
Cassella: 704-358-5384; Twitter: @mmcassella
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