Dave Matthews at Jones Beach

Dave Matthews Takes A Sad Song And Makes It Better
Dave Matthews Band
Jones Beach, July 22, 2009

The new Dave Matthews Band album, Big Whiskey and GrooGrux King, and the tour supporting it could have easily been a somber affair. Reeling from the tragic death of the group’s sax player, LeRoi Moore, in August of 2008, the group soldiered on to complete the recording of its latest album. While many thought the album was named solely as a tribute to the late Moore, the name is actually a nickname that Moore shared with the band’s drummer, Carter Beauford.

The spirit of the album’s ultimately optimistic tone and its general dance-jam groove were sometimes undercut by the tentative start of the show, due to what Matthews said was his “waking up with a frog in my throat.” Playing mellower and more instrumental-based songs early on, the group gave Matthews a chance to slowly work his voice into shape and, as the night wore on, he seemed comfortable uncorking some of his quirky, improvisational vocal-scat histrionics. Sometimes mistakenly lumped in only with the jam-band scene, the group shows on its latest album how adept its members are at writing confident, controlled, hook-laden songs and performing them with concise playing and tight musicianship. Producer Rob Cavallo did an excellent job reigning in the group’s jams and focused on the songs that sometimes can get lost in the jams. In addition, the mix by Chris Lord-Alge, who has worked wonders for the likes of Steve Winwood, mixed some of the opening tracks in a way that makes them truly radio-friendly. The standing room-only crowd, which included actor Richard Gere and his girlfriend Carey Lowell sitting two seats in front of me, was having fun taking pictures, dancing, singing along to every song and generally gooving on the whole “funky” vibe. There are few bands who can sustain the level of intensity and true group playing that DMB can over two hours and 45 minutes, which was how long the show was.

While Moore is certainly missed, the two new horn players add a jazzy improvisation in a way that adds something new and exciting to the group’s sound. Guitarist Tim Reynolds, who has played with the group before both live and on record and has toured as part of a duo with Matthews, really adds some rock muscle to the group. His versatile style at times recalls Earl Slick, who played with David Bowie after Mick Ronson. Reynolds also adds fluttery, wind-chime pure guitar tones to the band’s sound and would probably be a nice fit with the Dead. A great thing about the group is that even with a new album to promote, the members change the set around each night, keeping it fresh for the fans and for themselves. At Jones Beach on the second night, the group performed seven of the 13 songs from the new album. There were also such classics as “Crash (Into Me),” “Jimi Thing,” “Gravedigger” and the closer, “Tripping Billies.” The lyrics to “Tripping Billies” have more meaning now than ever before, with the lines “Eat, drink, and be merry For tomorrow we die” summing up the band’s current state of mind and offering all of us words to live by.

If you attended either of the DMB Jones Beach shows and would like to share your thoughts and/or photos, please submit them below.