Published Jul 11, 2019Between a prominent song placement in Lady Bird and an art-damaged tribute album by Ryley Walker, Dave Matthews Band have undergone something of a reappraisal in the last couple years.
Despite the band's sudden cool-adjacent status, their latest Toronto show didn't offer even the faintest trace of hipster detachment or self-aware irony. The vibe was cargo shorts, vocal scatting and deeply earnest revelry.
With the sun setting over the Budweiser Stage, the seven-piece arrived unceremoniously, milling around with their instruments before easing into the "That Girl Is You" from last year's Come Tomorrow. It was an unassuming start that built to a giddy crescendo, complete with funky jamming and Matthews' falsetto howls.
This peculiar opener set the tone for a bizarrely paced performance; it was as if DMB had put their entire discography on shuffle, pulling out deep cuts without the slight regard for "playing the hits."
Sometimes, this approach yielded surprising treasures. A scorching version of "You Might Die Trying" blew its studio counterpart out of the water, with duelling horns and a technically masterful shred solo from guitarist Tim Reynolds, while "Do You Remember" was a sweetly nostalgic pop tune on a night dominated by jazz-rock jams. Early career highlight "Recently" was a joyful mix of sunny riffs and hiccup-y, yodelling declarations of love.
But the set list began to drag as the nearly three-hour performance wore on. The schmaltzy acoustic ballad "Sister" sucked the life out of the audience, and a woman sitting in front of me began watching Ellen videos during the ponderous "Seek Up." The night included just one song apiece from DMB's definitive mid-'90s albums Under the Table and Dreaming and Crash.
Yet even when the songs disappointed, the band performed them with gusto: ever-smiling drummer Carter Beauford doled out fist-bumps between tunes, keyboardist Buddy Strong duetted with the crowd on "Everyday" (which was mashed up with fan fave "#36"), and Matthews performed his signature bow-legged dance moves at every opportunity. The frontman didn't say much, but his mumbling thank-yous were greeted with enthusiasm from the faithful.
The evening's upbeat mood proved that, despite some lineup changes over the years — founding saxophonist Leroi Moore died in 2008, and violinist Boyd Tinsley was ejected in 2018 amidst sexual misconduct allegations — DMB's modus operandi has stayed much the same. They're still a party band, and the show had all of the elements you'd expect from a raging kegger: "Crush" was like a sloppy make-out with an ex; "Funny the Way It Is" offered the stoner philosophizing of the dude on a "we live in a society" rant; and "What Would You Say" was the drunken group sing-along.
The whole thing culminated in a garish, comically over-the-top cover of "All Along the Watchtower," which included some embarrassingly on-the-nose flourishes (like some "mwah-ha-ha" laughter after the line "life is but a joke"). There was even an interpolation of "Stairway to Heaven" for maximum tackiness. But hey, since when was a party ever supposed to be tasteful?