The Dave Matthews Band hit the third city of its spring tour Sunday, settling into the sold-out FleetCenter for the front half of the run’s first two-night stand. But despite big-screen video action, the pacing and atmosphere onstage seemed more barroom than arena. The group took its time between songs and frontman Matthews asked fans, “Are you enjoying yourselves?” with the laconic drawl of his Virginia club days.
The predominately young crowd eventually slipped into a similar vibe as the Matthews Band delivered a two-and-a-half-hour concert that was largely mellow and favored newer material. Widely bootlegged songs from 2000’s scrapped “Lillywhite Sessions” – some of which were reworked for a new CD slated for release before a summer shed tour – even outnumbered the tunes from last year’s Glen Ballard-produced Everyday.
Sunday’s absence of such pithy older warhorses as “Warehouse,” “Drive In Drive Out” and “Rhyme & Reason” (which were all performed at the tour opener in Washington, D.C.) didn’t thrill decade-long DMB tour veteran Kevin Cardozo, 32, of Boston, whose summation was: “Middle of the road. Not enough old stuff.”
Kingston, Massachusetts, resident Emily McCoy, 17, didn’t have a preference between songs from Everyday and the Lillywhite Sessions. “I like them all, the whole spectrum of Dave music,” she said. “If I would make a mix CD of all my favorite Dave songs, they would have been played.”
“Wicked awesome,” said Elise McDonald, 18, of Providence, Rhode Island, juicing up an adjective used by several fans, who were also partial to the contemplative new song “Grace Is Gone.”
Even recent hits were muted within slow, taut funk grooves. Matthews spiked “I Did It” with his rare, chopping turn on electric guitar, but “The Space Between” drifted into jazzy space iced by touring keyboardist Butch Taylor’s piano.
The oldest tunes to surface Sunday were the funky rockers “What Would You Say,” which began the set, and “Too Much.” But despite the show’s straightforward slant, the musical feel and interplay within the group was at a higher level than the Matthews Band’s last FleetCenter visit in 2000.
One of the group’s more commercial tunes, the love song “Crush” became the set’s most unlikely jam vehicle. Begun with the slippery bass figures of Stefan Lessard, the song took off with two sawing fiddle breaks by Boyd Tinsley, who engaged Matthews head-to-head, then locked into a riff from Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” driven home by ferocious waves from drummer Carter Beauford.
Matthews also used dynamics and soaring vocals to power the Beatles-esque “Pig” and “Bartender,” while economical saxman LeRoi Moore turned from his main baritone and soprano tools to a piccolo for the latter’s marching buildup.
For the most part, fans said they were happy to see the group return to smaller venues, though Kyle Beaudoin, 16, of Acton, Massachusetts, took the opposite view. “I like Foxboro,” he said of the local stadium where the band has played recent summers. “More open, better atmosphere, more people and stuff.”