Monday, September 9, 2013

Dave Matthews Band, Gary Clark Jr. concert review: Irvine, Calif.

My review originally appeared at
Photos by Kelly Swift.

When it comes to staying power, Dave Matthews Band has much of the competition beat.

Few music acts together more than two decades can claim their last six studio albums debuted at No. 1 and went gold or platinum.

The Virginia group consistently lands among the Top 10 American tour tallies and gives Bruce Springsteen a run for his money in the show-length department.

Saturday night’s sold-out return to Verizon Wireless Amphitheater – DMB is a perennial favorite at the Irvine venue and played there almost exactly a year ago – clocked in just under three hours.

It was an awe-inspiring testament to the seven players’ superb musicianship, and while Matthews claimed to be hoarse while introducing opener Gary Clark Jr., he was in fine voice throughout the penultimate stop of this summer U.S. tour.

Surprisingly, DMB’s exceptional 2012 studio disc Away from the World, which reunited the group with producer Steve Lillywhite (a key figure early in their career), was only represented by three selections in O.C. Instead, fans were treated to good-sized chunks from formative work Under the Table and Dreaming (1994) and third album Before These Crowded Streets (1998), as well as some unreleased tunes (“Granny,” “Kill the Preacher”) and a pair from Matthews’ solo effort Some Devil (“Gravedigger,” “Save Me”).

Launching with the ominous “Squirm,” Matthews sang menacingly as Jeff Coffin and Rashawn Ross provided wild horn flourishes and Tim Reynolds added chunky riffs on his Flying V guitar. Equally intense was a frenetic “The Stone,” where the guys (particularly violinist Boyd Tinsley) provided a solid sense of tension and release.

Some people in the general-admission pit section held up a large banner that read “love” – and it just happened to align with a key lyric in “Granny.” Then Carter Beauford did a rolling drum-solo intro for the morose, yet enthralling “Gravedigger.” The loping “When the World Ends,” during which Anaheim-born bassist Stefan Lessard sported a big smile, was the first of several highlights.

Matthews made comments about the humid weather, stating at one point that it felt like “Florida in August.” DMB’s rocking take on Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down a Dream,” with horns and violin, worked well and found Matthews singing in a register he doesn’t employ often. Shaggy-haired Reynolds (who could almost be mistaken for Petty these days) really got to flex his music muscles with some wailing electric guitar work.

Clark joined them to add sizzling fretwork on an extended take on Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” (a longtime DMB live staple) as screens at the side of the stage suddenly went kaput. Another guest guitarist, Mike McCready, provided tasteful strains amid a seething "Rhyme and Reason," marking the first time any member of Pearl Jam has played with DMB.

Immediately afterward, Matthews welcomed two more horn players (including Yellowjackets vet Bob Mintzer) for “Jimi Thing.” The fun, epic-length song, which whipped fans into a frenzy, simultaneously spotlighted Tinsley’s feisty fiddle playing as well as the brass section, saw Matthews go into scatting mode, and incorporated a snatch of Prince’s “Sexy MF.”

Other standouts this evening: a robust “What Would You Say” (a big crowd sing-along), the vibrant, double-entendre-laden “Belly Belly Nice,” an elegant, idyllic “The Space Between” and the joyous “Rapunzel.” And even though it went past 11 p.m., few attendees left; they were still in party mode and so was the band, which performed an exuberant “Ants Marching” in the encore.

Gary Clark Jr. definitely lived up to the hype. His 45-minute set began with the thunderous, Cream-style groove of “When My Train Pulls In,” the first of two tracks from last year’s acclaimed, highly impressive debut “Blak and Blu.”

The Austin singer and guitarist, backed by a three-piece band, proved masterful at every turn. “Don’t Owe You a Thang” had an early Sun Studios vibe, with a relentless pattern that Clark didn’t let go of until absolutely necessary.

A chugging, melodic “Travis County” reminded of Chuck Berry, while Albert Collins’ “If Trouble Was Money” was pure sumptuous blues, drawing loud cheers.

Clark’s medley of Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun” and his own “If You Love Me Like You Say” encompassed swelling organ and guitar sounds, varying from fuzztone blasts and wah-wah effects à la Tom Morello. Simply mind-blowing.

Dave Matthews Band at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, Irvine, Sept. 7, 2013 
Main set: Squirm / The Stone / Big Eyed Fish > Granny / When the World Ends / Gravedigger / Runnin' Down a Dream (Tom Petty cover) / #34 / What Would You Say / If Only / Belly Belly Nice / All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan cover) / The Space Between / Kill the Preacher / Don't Drink the Water / Rhyme and Reason / Jimi Thing / Rooftop / Pantala Naga Pampa > Rapunzel
Encore: Save Me / Ants Marching > Halloween

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