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Early in his band’s 2½-hour-plus set Wednesday night at the Hollywood Bowl, Dave Matthews joked about playing the hallowed venue. “It’s always hard for me playing the Hollywood Bowl,” he said. “You guys are all so groovy. Then he added, in one of his trademark imitations, “We’re all just chilling out.”
For much of the night, though, Matthews and his six-piece band decided rather than fight the crowd to go with the flow, playing several midtempo tunes and turning nearly every one of the 21 songs into a jam at the end.
Dave Matthews Band drew liberally from its new album, Away From the World, which was released Tuesday. The group went to the new material for the second song, “If Only,” which set the tone for the more laid-back portion of the show with a nice and easy horn fade at the end.
After the song, Matthews said, “We had a lot of fun making this record, even though making records is kind of a weird thing to do these days.” He then gave a shout-out to producer Steve Lillywhite, who Matthews said was one of several friends in the house.
Among the other new songs DMB showcased were the aptly named “Sweet,” which has been a staple of the live show all year; “Rooftop,” a harder-edged song punctuated by its heavy chorus; the heavily jazz and funky “Belly Belly,” listed on the band’s website set list as “Belly Belly Nice”; the soft, melodic “Gaucho”; “Snow Outside”; “Mercy,” which featured an effectively slow buildup; and “The Riff,” a compelling standout that featured some of Matthews’ best vocals of the night for their fervor and the way they were augmented by a more hypnotic rhythm. The same was true of “Gravedigger,” from 2003.
For many artists, relying on so much new material the day after an album is released — even in this day and age of leaks and immediate YouTube placement — still runs the risk of frustrating an audience. After all, Matthews ignored several hits, from “Crash Into Me” and “Stay” to the more recent “Why I Am.” But as an act that built his following on the live show, Matthews can get away with it. Most, if not all of the crowd, seemed to relish the chance to hear the extended jams on the new material. They also welcomed the interplay when guitarist Stanley Jordan joined the band for “Raven” and “Dreaming Tree.”
And Matthews rewarded those who stayed to the end of the marathon set with his explosive rendition of “All Along the Watchtower.” A cover being the high point of a show usually is not a good sign, but the band’s version of the Bob Dylan classic is so powerful it ranks among the best performances of a song that’s been covered too many times to count.
Coming back for the encore, Matthews found the perfect way to follow a song whose fury could not be duplicated — he went the exact opposite for a gorgeous acoustic performance of “The Space Between.” The night then ended just after 11 with “Time Bomb” and a raucous version of “Two Step.”
Matthews might have quipped about being uncomfortable playing the Bowl, but he showed that after more than two decades on the road, there isn’t a stage built yet he can’t make feel like home.
You and Me
Belly Belly Nice
All Along the Watchtower
The Space Between
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