Dave Matthews Band experiments with winning formula at Chase Center

The Dave Mathews Band, DMB

The Dave Mathews Band performs at Chase Center in San Francisco on Sept 10, 2019.
Photos: Gary Chancer.

SAN FRANCISCO — Who knew that “Back in Black” and “Stayin’ Alive” were essentially the same song? Dave Matthews Band and its frontman have made a living out of experimenting—both in the studio and onstage in front of thousands—so it’s nice to imagine how the group would have figured that out by accident. DMB broke out a rollicking mash-up of the AC/DC and Bee Gees tunes two thirds of the way through its nearly three-hour show at the new Chase Center.

Matthews and his bandmates made the hard rock song funkier and the ’70s disco number tough as nails. And by that point the band was firing on all cylinders.

The Dave Mathews Band, DMB

The Dave Mathews Band performs at Chase Center in San Francisco on Sept 10, 2019.

It did take a while to reach that point. Matthews used the first 30 minutes of the set, or about five songs, to size up the crowd and get comfortable in the new room. The musicians nonchalantly walked onto the stage and Matthews took a solid minute to look out into the crowd and then spin around and look at the environment. The band then launched into the brassy “Squirm,” off 2009’s Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King. Next came “Stay or Leave,” an acoustic-guitar-led tune on which the musicians changed the tempo.

Tripping Billies,” a cut from 1993, was the first to truly connect with the near-capacity crowd with an extended sax solo by Jeff Coffin. Matthews took every opportunity to let his bandmates shine. Sideman Tim Reynolds, the lead guitarist, had the flashiest moments, but trumpeter Rashawn Ross, the rhythm section of Carter Beauford (drums) and Stefan Lessard (bass), and keyboardist Buddy Strong all had their moments. 

The Dave Mathews Band, DMB

The Dave Mathews Band performs at Chase Center in San Francisco on Sept 10, 2019.

The seven musicians would riff with each other without even needing to make eye contact. There were no setlists on stage. Instead, they would huddle up every couple of songs and seemingly pick what to play next. Perhaps that’s how “Ants Marching” didn’t make the cut. 

The uplifting “Come Tomorrow,” the title track of 2018’s album of the same name, had an animation of stick figures doing things to make the world a better place, like planting trees. On “Lie in Our Graves,” Reynolds turned what started as fancy guitar noodling into some flat-out slide guitar soloing. Beauford kept pace for the entire solo, cymbals crashing left and right. That led into a snippet of Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight.” Matthews had no-doubt seen who will become the third act to perform at Chase Center on Wednesday.

Other than some stage banter in the voice of Yosemite Sam, Matthews didn’t speak much; thanking fans several times, toasting a long-time crew member off to retirement, and remarking on the grandiosity of the surroundings.

The Dave Mathews Band, DMB

The Dave Mathews Band performs at Chase Center in San Francisco on Sept 10, 2019.

“It’s a beautiful view out in the concourse,” he said in the cartoony voice. “And it cost a pretty penny.”

Following the slinky “That Girl Is You” and a tom-drum-heavy “Say Goodbye” (which was a rare surprise in a Dave Matthews Band set), DMB reached full velocity with the explosive “Rooftop.”

“Lying in the Hands of God” first turned jazzy with the interplay of Buddy Strong’s keys with the brass section and was then punctuated by Matthews’ full-throated falsetto scream. The band followed a twangy snippet of 2009 cut “Water Into Wine” with 1993’s “Song That Jane Likes” and “Jimi Thing.” The rocker featured a new arrangement and dueling parts by Reynolds and Strong. There was a sax solo, a trumpet solo as well, while Matthews more or less hid in a front corner of the stage to dance and take it all in. The song ended in a full-on attack of groovy jamming.

“I miss Boyd [Tinsley] but it’s hard to argue with that performance,” one man next to me said in reference to the band’s former violinist.

That song led into the aforementioned covers mash-up, which included Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle” at the tail end. After another explosive number, “Don’t Drink the Water,” the band cleared the stage, leaving Matthews alone with his guitar for “Here on Out.” The acoustic song was a brief rest step because the tempo was raised again on “Funny The Way it Is,” “Can’t Stop” and fan favorite “The Space Between.”

Even the arena’s scoreboards all turning on simultaneously to show Muni and Caltrain schedules couldn’t slow momentum by that point. The band concluded its main set with “Don’t Burn the Pig” and “Louisiana Bayou” before an encore that included a snippet of “Dreaming Tree,” a complete performance of “Last Stop,” a cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower” and “Today.”

Writer Michael Smyth contributed to this report. Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter

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