Dave Matthews Band’s patchy concert at Providence Amphitheater on Wednesday contained a few brilliant flashes of inspiration amid lengthy segments of unremarkable music. More than 10,000 fans heard the group’s inconsistent effort.
The ensemble’s melding of genial pop and jam band spontaneity has made it an enormously popular live attraction for most of its 25 years. The septet displayed its best and worst qualities in an outing that lasted more than two and a half hours.
The first several selections were dull. Even an exploration of the audience favorite “Warehouse” was drab. The burly bass of Stefan Lessard salvaged a dreary reading of “Big Eyed Fish.” Jeff Coffin’s lithe soprano saxophone solo was the sole distinctive element of “Bismarck.”
A significant portion of the audience responded accordingly. Many acted as if the band was providing background music for a massive outdoor party on the refreshingly mild evening. While Lessard’s subtle introduction to “Crush” was drowned out by disinterested chatter, most managed to interrupt their conversations to shout along with Matthews’ lyrics about inebriation.
The musicians didn’t sound as if they were playing for keeps until the seventh selection, “Why I Am.” The band resumed its mundane approach until it launched into an extraordinary reading of “Seek Up” three songs later. Extended solos by Coffin and trumpeter Rashawn Ross and the enterprising support of their bandmates evoked the most powerful work of the groundbreaking jazz fusion band Weather Report.
A routine rendering of “Granny” and a banal Prince cover aside, the remainder of the concert was solid. A rambunctious version of “Don’t Drink the Water” and the aggressive attack employed on the bleary-eyed party song “Jimi Thing” were potent. Violinist Boyd Tinsley paid homage to Jimi Hendrix on the bracing arrangement of “All Along the Watchtower” that served as the encore.
The artistic surge during the concert’s second half was abetted by Matthews’ singing. His garbled vocals can resemble the mumblings of an untalented ventriloquist, but his delivery was excellent Wednesday. Muscular drummer Carter Beauford was the band’s most valuable player. The most compelling images that flashed across the video screens were live shots of Beauford’s maniacal grin.
Matthews has announced that his band will retire from the road until 2018 after its 25th anniversary tour concludes this year. Wednesday’s erratic show indicated that his band may be in need of the break.
Bill Brownlee: @happyinbag
One Sweet World, So Much to Say, Warehouse, Big Eyed Fish, Bismarck, Crush, Why I Am, Recently, Crash Into Me, Seek Up, Shake Me Like a Monkey, Don’t Drink the Water, Digging a Ditch, Granny, Grey Street, You and Me, Jimi Thing, Sexy MF, All Along the Watchtower