Belly Belly Nice
Kill the Preacher
Don’t Drink the Water
Fool to Think
What Would You Say
The Space Between
You Might Die Trying
Pantala Naga Pampa
Updated: July 7, 2013 9:04PM
This past February, when Dave Matthews Band announced its sprawling set of summer tour dates, it was not surprising to see a pair of shows on the docket at Alpine Valley Music Theatre: In the two-decades-plus the jam-rockers have built their fame on the strength of incessant touring, they’ve habitually made temporary residence at the iconic Wisconsin venue.
And while Alpine, with its mountainous lawn and pristine sight lines, remains one of the Midwest’s premier live-music venues, based on a generally stale performance on Friday night, it’s become increasingly more difficult to feel the same fervor for DMB.
To say Friday’s show, the first of two Alpine gigs, was a complete miss would be to ignore Matthews’ ability to connect with his fans — many of whom are notorious for going to absurd lengths to catch a show. (Some Northern Minnesotan cohorts drove eight hours without working up a sweat to make it on Friday; other fans we met were traveling with the band for multiple shows.)
It’s the frontman’s ability to offer up the “it’s just me and you” moments — whether rocking out, neck bulging and eyes popping during an impassioned “Don’t Drink The Water,” or unspooling the comparatively gentle jangling riffs of “Everyday” and “Granny”— that keeps his fans shelling out $75-plus-fees prices to see “Ants Marching” and “What Would You Say” performed yet again.
For their part, Matthews and his band remain crisp musical technicians. The frontman maintained a stocky rhythm-guitar figure on “Warehouse”; drummer Carter Beauford added a palpable crispness and fluid direction to an otherwise bloated “Ants” jam; guitarist Tim Reynolds bespoke his small physical stature with outsize soloing (“Louisiana Bayou”), and bassist Stefan Lessard, forever playing the underappreciated card, set the table for Boyd Tinsley’s electric violin hits (“Dancing Nancies”) and misses (“Everyday”).
Blame the mediocre show then on Matthews’ creative streak hitting a rough patch in the past decade. The band’s most recent album, last fall’s “Away From the World,” lacked the bite of its earlier, more finely tuned material.
In concert, even album standout “Snow Outside,” complete with a traditional DMB-ian jam-outro, failed to translate into a meaningful live concoction. And while another newbie, “Drunken Soldier,” complete with a clear nod to Pink Floyd’s “Breath” in the outro, was indeed a surprising treat — for one of the first times all evening Matthews looked truly excited by the music he was playing – it failed to generate a meaningful enough crowd response for it to likely populate the band’s setlists after this tour.
The best moments were unexpected ones. Material off Matthews’ lone solo effort, 2003’s “Some Devil,” has gotten richer with time: “Save Me,” one of the singer’s many attempts at reconciling his distaste for religion, exploded with fiery menace, and “Some Devil,” which Matthews performed sans-band at the start of a four-song encore, showcased the singer’s steely tenor.
Even selections from the much-maligned “Everyday” album, including the horn-inflected “So Right” and “Fool To Think,” usurped the band’s more popular fare with their kick and stomp.
“It’s always nice to be here,” Matthews told the roaring crowd early in the evening. There’s no doubt the singer-songwriter enjoys visiting Alpine; the stunning venue might as well be (and pay for) his summer home. Still, one only can wish the quality of his band’s performance on Friday was on par with the charming surroundings.