Dave Matthews Band and folk-pop ingénue Ingrid Michaelson headlined a sold-out benefit concert at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, raising funds for Stand Up for a Cure, a cancer research group, as well as 9/11 first responders. Actress Julia Roberts, a close friend of DMB’s, started the event, on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary, with renewed thanks to those who served, saying “We’re forever beholden to all of them.” Matthews, who was 10 years-old when his father died of lung cancer, expressed thanks numerous times to the crowd, many of whom paid a steep price for tickets. “One day, we hopefully won’t need to have events like this,” he said.
DMB has had a busy summer, as usual, playing amphitheaters across the United States. Matthews also has been actively supporting Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, most recently playing a gig at Red Rocks in Denver to help kick off the Democratic National Convention. But it is the death of DMB co-founder and saxophonist LeRoi Moore that has overshadowed the band since Moore passed away on Aug. 19. His substitute, for now, is acclaimed saxophonist Jeff Coffin, best-known for his work with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones.
|Dave Matthews Band Live at Madison Square Garden September 10, 2008 Don’t Drink the Water Proudest Monkey Satellite So Damn Lucky Cornbread Burning Down the House Spoon Stay or Leave Eh Hee Water/Wine Jam # 41 Louisiana Bayou Sledgehammer Crash Into Me Two Step Anyone Seen the Bridge Too Much (fake) Ants Marching—Too Much All Along the Watchtower|
Matthews had kind words for Michaelson when he introduced her opening set, calling her music “my new favorite thing in the world”. Michaelson took the stage after a hug from Matthews, telling the crowd still finding its seats in Manhattan’s famous midtown cavern that “it’s nice to be home”. Gaining national exposure this year via Old Navy commercials, prime-time TV drama scores and millions of plays on YouTube for her single “The Way I Am”, Michaelson emerged out of relative anonymity on Staten Island, where she was until recently a children’s theater teacher and waitress.
Elliot Jacobson, Michaelson’s drummer from Brooklyn, told me that opening for DMB was “a dream come true”.
“Everyone in our band jokes how we’ve all been through a ‘Dave Matthews phase’ in our life,” he says. “For me, it was in high school, when I saw them five times.” Michaelson and her band, which includes two female guitarists, a bassist and Jacobson, have spent a couple weeks this summer opening for DMB.
Michaelson took the night’s theme to heart in her 30-minute set, which was highlighted by her new upbeat ukulele ditty “Be OK”, which will be released next month on a disc of the same name that will benefit Stand Up for a Cure. Lightly tapping her palms on her thighs and swaying her auburn locks hidden under a drooping fedora, Michaelson breezed through tunes such as “Die Alone” and the fragile ballad “Breakable”, both off her debut album, 2006’s Girls and Boys. On “The Way I Am”, she playfully mixed up her hit, rapping (well, at least trying) the theme to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air sitcom before segueing into her song’s piano chords. Her clipped melisma easily keeps her hook-laden tunes taut. Michaelson ended with the pop standard “Over the Rainbow”, again on ukulele, this time with just a lone spotlight, sans band. Dare I say her take was more fun than Judy Garland’s?
DMB soon came on and played a commanding set, with a balanced medley of pop hits, fan favorites and well-executed covers. Matthews grabbed a quick sip of tea by drummer Carter Beauford’s drum kit before launching into the driving arpeggios on the opener “Don’t Drink the Water”, pivoting his left foot convulsively with the rhythm, making sure to include a light riff off Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land”. Neck veins bulging, Matthews wrapped the opener howling “I’ll build heaven and call it home”, eliciting a roar one sees paralleled at few rock shows, save U2 or the Grateful Dead.
Matthews, who says he came to MSG as a child to see the Barnum & Bailey circus, then began a low-key take of “Proudest Monkey”, which was punched up with frothy trumpet solos by RaShawn Ross. Notably, guitarist Tim Reynolds, a longtime DMB collaborator, played the usual sax lines on his six-strings where Moore once had a regular solo. Numerous subtle changes in DMB’s repertoire have changed for similar reasons. Though Coffin more than ably fills in as a player—his enthusiasm is infectious—Moore’s void leaves just that, and a big one.
“So Damn Lucky”, a track from Matthews’s 2003 solo album Some Devil, was a high point in the evening, with Reynolds rippling notes alongside Beauford’s beat, with Matthews’s wailing falsetto to “Take me back, just before I was dizzy”. The tune escalated when the band decided to jam the song’s last verse, with Matthews chanting he’ll “Show you what a minute can do”—face contorted, eyebrow raised and slack jaw stretched wide.
With a somewhat sober haze hovering over the evening, from Moore’s passing to cancer and 9/11, Matthews & Co. lifted the mood on “Cornbread”, a funky unreleased swamp-rock stomp. Matthews’s whole body danced and dangled around the stage, twisting his torso with the abandon of Elaine Benes from Seinfeld as the band (and crowd) laughed. Beauford, amused, pounded his golf glove-covered fists with Matthews as post-jig props after the singer’s skewed personal audition for “So You Think You Can Dance” concluded. Reynolds visibly enjoyed the upbeat number, pounding out notes like he was furiously sewing a patch onto his lower fret board.
DMB then played a raucous cover of the Talking Heads’ 1983 hit “Burning Down the House”. Matthews has the ability to sink into a cover song’s character without fading into its background. Here he ratcheted up the vocal stakes as the band went all in to live up to the song’s title. Michaelson soon returned to stage to sing on the rarity “Spoon”, the lilting track from DMB’s 1998 album Before These Crowded Streets, its most adventurous and lush recording. Michaelson brightly sang the part sung by Alanis Morissette in the studio. Other DMB covers included the well-received Peter Gabriel single “Sledgehammer”—if you closed your eyes, Matthews’s voice sounded almost identical at times to the Brit rocker—and Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”, a staple of DMB encores for many years.
DMB flexed again with the tribal chant of “Eh Hee”, the sparse “Water/Wine Jam” and the jazzy fan-favorite “#41”. Violinst Boyd Tinsley, who was somber for most of the evening, aced his solo on “Louisiana Bayou” before the rolling rhythms of “Two Step” closed the band’s set with instrumental panache.
But, of course, this was a charity show, so not everyone in the audience was a hardcore fan of the Virginia band, though DMB’s “Crash Into Me” did manage to get everyone on their feet, a clarion call to significant others everywhere at the Garden to put arms around waists or bring out a lighter as purple lights bounced off retired hockey jerseys and New York Knicks championship banners in the rafters.