Dave Matthews concerts are an experience. There’s a reason that some folks plan their summers around going to see Dave. As a veteran of many, many concerts (including nine of Dave’s), I can safely say that I have never seen a night when Dave was off of his “A” game, and I’m sure the many late-twentysomethings and early-thirtysomethings who are Dave-heads will agree. As for the annoying frat-tards that have been popping up at alarming rates over the past couple of years…well, that’s for another review.
Before popping up with his band on a summer tour, Dave and his frequent partner Tim Reynolds undertook a short acoustic tour that culminated in a show on April 22, 2007 at New York’s famed Radio City Music Hall. The show wound up being filmed and the result is Live at Radio City, a two-disc set that captures most of that night’s performance (a DVD companion is also available). While the two-man-on-acoustic-guitar concept sounds like it would be a bit of a bore to most people, this audio recording perfectly captures the energy and the emotion of the show, and I should know. I was there.
The two-hour plus set features a mix of DMB classics, covers, new songs, and a healthy helping of songs from Matthews’s 2003 solo album Some Devil. So healthy, in fact, that after this show I immediately pulled out my copy of that album and listened to it again. Vocally, Dave is in strong voice throughout. Full-bodied and slightly husky, it’s still capable of sliding into a heavenly falsetto.
There are tons of great musical moments interspersed throughout the show. Reynolds’s shimmering guitar playing is brought front and center on two solo tracks, ”Betrayal” and “You Are My Sanity”. A version of Daniel Lanois’s “Still Water” segues effortlessly into the colonialization tale “Don’t Drink the Water”, which then segues into a spot of “This Is Your Land”. Dave’s storytelling skills get a workout as well. He tells the heartbreaking story of a U.S. soldier who was injured in combat, but the government refused to pay for his care on the basis of a “pre-existing condition”. Reprinted on the actual CD booklet, it’s the perfect starting point for a haunting version of “Gravedigger”. Later in the show, Dave introduces the moving new song “Sister” with a story that made me think of my own sister, who will be shipping off to Iraq (for the second time) soon.
Throughout the show, Dave delivers several spoken asides, ranging from the serious to the hilarious. In true Dave fashion, his stories grow a tad more incoherent as the show goes on, but they serve to add a bit of levity to a performance that manages to be as intense as a full-band show, and winds up being extremely intimate, considering the size of the venue. Dave and Tim, who have been playing together intermittently for the better part of 15 years, have a solid musical chemistry, and as much as I love Stefan, Boyd, Carter and LeRoi, I don’t really miss them on this performance.
The crowd’s a little more subdued than on typical live albums (and at typical Dave concerts), but they still make their presence felt throughout the album, whether letting loose with a cheer after Dave sings the line “we’ll be burning one” during “When The World Ends” or going ape as the opening chords to “Crash Into Me” begin. Of course, Dave delivers at the end of the show, knocking off, in succession, a series of all-time live favorites including “#41”, “Dancing Nancies”, and “Two Step”.
In most cases, I’m not a fan of live albums. Usually, the performances sound close enough to the original versions that buying them a second time for some added crowd noise just seems like an exercise in redundancy. Dave, who’s released as many live albums at this point as he has studio albums (possibly more), continues to release live albums that are as fresh and vibrant as his studio efforts, giving new shades to songs that have been heard and played thousands of times. Even if I wasn’t at the show, Live at Radio City would take up a welcome position in my CD collection. If you weren’t there, and you’re a Dave fan, this definitely needs to be part of yours.