Dave Matthews Band/Gov’t Mule
Aaron’s Amphitheater at Lakewood
July 27, 2010
Dave Matthews may be the most polarizing person of sound creation in the jam world. Passions seem to run deep on either side of the issue. One side has more than a pocket full of jokes filled with cliché in an attempt to cast him into the world of suck; the other side simply exudes enough passion for the band that they don’t need anything further to illustrate their point.
It is safe to say that Atlanta’s Aaron’s Amphitheater at Lakewood was chock full of the latter.
If there is ever a contest for the artist in the "scene" who’s most likely to fall into the love/hate category, the clear winner would be Dave Matthews Band.
In fact, Dave Matthews Band in its entirety causes many jam hipsters to question his place on the jam circuit at all. But the definition of jam band is so expansive – to the point that Matthews himself resists the jam band label – that one really never has the right to question who rides on its route. Regardless of this, it seems that as Dave’s main stream appeal has increased, his scene cred seems to have dwindled at as rapid a rate.
Maybe the jam critics legitimately think that the sound is no good. And maybe there’s a correlation between those that dismiss the notion of jam in its sum and Dave Matthews fans. It is possible that there is some harbored resentment towards him since he and his outfit who, among very few others, have been able to take a music career all the way from Wetlands Preserve in NYC to the top of the Billboard charts, causing the scenester to now be the very embodiment of the fox from Aesop’s Sour Grapes.
Whatever the case, it still holds true that the drop-of-a-hat dismissal primarily comes from the very fans of artists (See Trey Anastasio) who are all too willing to stand alongside the South African native songwriter, singer, and guitarist. However, it is even truer that Matthews is not going anywhere. He is here to stay at the request of millions, including the 15,000 or so people who showed up at Atlanta’s Lakewood Amphitheatre to observe, sing, and dance to the sound that he and the band have developed over the years.
After a warm-up session from opening act Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule, Dave Matthews Band took to the stage with resounding approval from everyone in the facility on the nearly unbearably hot day in Atlanta. Matthews himself would later comment to the crowd that they "make it hot down here in Georgia." In spite of the temperature, the already sweaty crowd apparently did not have any thought of taking a break from the action that they anticipated would soon be stemming from the stage.
In a strange move, Matthews did not feed off of the amped faithful, instead opening with "Minarets." It managed to work and set a tone for an evening that would be more marathon than sprint.
It also bore witness and provided testament that, in the eyes of his fans, he can do no wrong. To say that this multitude of gatherers were in adoration of all that is Dave Matthews would be a huge understatement. This crowd knew the next song before it started and before the opening chord even progressed to it successive note, the cheers and buzz would begin. They sang every word and danced in accordance with each sound that emanated.
Just when it seemed safe to say that the tunes would mainly be mostly straight run-throughs, The Mu’tet leader and Flecktone saxophonist, Jeff Coffin, made his presence known as a flutist alongside Carter Beauford’s rhythmic accompaniment on the drums for the intro to "Say Goodbye." As Coffin and Carter conceded the lead back and forth multiple times in moments of sheer authenticity, the memory of Leroi Moore was one that surely passed through the minds of many. The exchange proved to be something special as it lent insight into the natural chemistry of which Matthews serves at the helm.
After rounding a corner which brought about the first true dash of the set list in "Shake Me Like a Monkey," the band took to a session of fusion-oriented jamming that would take even the most vetted connoisseur cynic back to school in songs like "Lying in the Hands of God" and "Lie in Our Graves," which brought about the first actual showcase of perma-grinner and violinist Boyd Tinsley. The only thing that spewed forth harder than musical honesty and true gratitude from Mr. Tinsley was the chilling beauty that swelled from his instrument. For a moment, it felt like the Amphitheater had turned into a backwoods Baptist church as the followers in the crowd clapped in supplemental splendor as Tinsley’s stately play gave way to a building resonance from the guitar of Matthews which was complimented by an undercurrent provided by the bass of Stefan Lessard.
Warren Haynes would eventually make his way back to the stage as most had expected. He did so for a blistering rendition of "Cornbread," where many of the youth in attendance seemed to get their first taste of full-frontal guitar face melt. The melt yielded to grins that could be observed in abundance throughout the venue. It was one of those feelings wherein one feels both old and delighted simultaneously. To see a literal kid get turned on is something that is magnificent to observe. Haynes’ slide playing on this number carried both the soul of Bonnie Raitt and the vehemence of Derek Trucks and did so while still maintaining a sound that was uniquely his own.
There would be a double encore this night that brought out Matthews for the title track of his 2003 solo album, Some Devil. Dave would provide the song in stage solitude but with choral adjunction from what seemed like every voice in the venue on what had become a classic summer evening in the South.
Following this introspective number, the rest of the crew would rejoin for the classically upbeat and ass shaking, "Ants Marching." With this and some cordial thanks and smiles from the band, the ants who had called Lakewood "home" this night marched themselves out into the night still exclaiming their approval.
Whatever stage one places Dave Matthews Band on, he must not do so without granting the obvious: that Dave Matthews Band is an outfit that deserves some sort of honest appraisal. It is also important to recognize the genuine love that the followers of this band behold. To do otherwise would be an exercise in partisan bias. There is enough of that in the world today.