Live At Radio City Music Hall
REVIEW BY: Josh Allen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/24/2011
I admit it. I’m a Dave Matthews Band apologist. It’s sort of scary how often I’ve spun Before These Crowded Streets. But at the same time, I understand people’s beef with DMB. Maybe you were soured by their decade-long dry spell that ended with the recently released Big Whiskey And The GrooGrux King, maybe you’re not into the whole 20-minute jam session thing, or maybe you’re just so put off by the some of the Dave-heads who follow them around the country only because someone said they were cool.
I get it.
But if you’re in that camp and you’re ever willing to give Dave another shot, I’ve got a feeling that his performance in Live At Radio City (on two-disc CD or a wonderfully shot DVD), with guitar legend Tim Reynolds, is a magnificent place to start. And if you’re like me and run to Dave shows as often as you can, then of course you’ll love it, too.
Immediately, DMB followers will recognize that the live performances delivered in this album are starkly different than the usually densely textured, heavily instrumented style that typifies the band. Dave and Tim more than carry the heavy load with their individual talents on guitar. It’s amazing to hear renditions of iconic DMB songs like “Crush” without Stefan Lessard’s bass or Boyd Tinsley’s electric fiddle, or “Crash Into Me” without Leroi Moore’s sensual saxophone or Carter Beauford’s perfectly subtle percussive phrases.
The duo’s setlist showcases all of the facets that Dave’s songwriting has covered over the last 20 years, from the beautifully forlorn “Stay Or Leave” to the powerful “Don’t Drink The Water” to the playful “Cornbread.” As DMB concert-goers will tell you, he’ll always cover one or two songs; in Radio City, they choose Daniel Lanois’s “The Maker” and Neil Young’s “Down By The River,” the latter of which is one of the brightest spots on the album, as Dave comes darn close to matching Neil’s inimitable vocal talents.
I’m not sure how it’s possible, but Dave and Tim manage to establish an intimate setting in the cavernous Radio City Music Hall. The CD version edits much of this out, but Dave oozes quirkiness as he banters with the crowd between just about every song. Perhaps most interesting is his explanation of the inspiration of his 2007 single “Eh Hee,” when Dave recalls his visit to a Koishan tribe in southern Africa, which he describes as, “in a strange way, the most advanced people on the planet.” His portrayal of his fascination with the tribe is both remarkable and comical (He describes one ritualistic practice by saying, “The one guy ate the fire!...Then he just carried on groovin’.”).
Tim Reynolds’s brilliance shines throughout the album, playing first mate to Dave’s crooning and stepping up to the plate for jaw-dropping solos when called upon. Twice, Dave yields the stage to Tim for a solo performance. The first of which, “Betrayal,” best features Tim’s creative talents, as he extensively uses loopback effects and lightning-fast finger-picking – often with his eyes closed – to wow the crowd.
The double encore at the conclusion of the lengthy, two and a half hour performance is worth the wait. The five-song set includes simply gorgeous renditions of “Some Devil” and break-up ballad “Grace Is Gone,” and a tangible energy fills every inch of Radio City Music Hall with “#41” and finale “Two Step.”
But again, the main appeal of Live at Radio City is its willingness to play DMB songs we’re so used to hearing while departing from the Dave Matthews Band’s usual reliance on heavy instrumentation. Unlike his recorded experiments that tried this as well, like Some Devil, this live performance carries an appeal and energy that cannot be denied.