Dave Matthews Band At Air Canada Centre

  • Dave Matthews
    Photo: Douglas Mason/Getty Images

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By Nick Krewen

You never quite know what you're going to get from Dave Matthews Band when you see them in concert.

Actually, that's not exactly true. Some of the guarantees you will receive include a performance filled with immaculate musicianship, excellent execution and a headlining set that will either approach — or break — the three-hour mark, as it did at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Dec. 7.

But there's always the unpredictability factor: Which song will the GRAMMY-winning sextet, fronted by the South African-born singer/songwriter/acoustic guitarist Matthews, tackle next, and how radically will it differ from the studio version?

That is the key to the DMB live experience: six virtuosos that play together so seamlessly, they can read each other's thoughts and improvise accordingly, expanding and contracting on a theme so expertly that it will unveil, develop and explore the emotional nuances thoroughly before building them to exciting conclusions. (And they never play the same set twice. Hell, they never play a song the same way twice.)

Commencing with a beefy and funky rendition of "Seven," and sporting a unique guitar-violin-horns-drums concoction that melded the discipline of rock with the freedom of fusion that got the 18,000-strong crowd pumped, DMB began "Gravedigger" with a short Carter Beauford drum solo before jumping into "Rooftop," the first of seven songs from the band's latest studio album, Away From The World.

But it was "The Dreaming Tree" that was the band's first true elastic adventure of the evening, with Jeff Coffin on flute and Rashawn Ross on muted trumpet offering lovely, lively solos over the band's appealing ostinato groove, each lasting more than five minutes.

Electric guitarist Tim Reynolds — who has recorded a number of live duet albums with the equally proficient Matthews — offered several fiery moments, particularly during a raging version of the Bob Dylan classic "All Along The Watchtower" that brought down the house and also offered lots of room for violinist Boyd Tinsley to make his mark. (Although it's not quite in the same league as the Jimi Hendrix version, DMB's version certainly falls into the "modern-day definitive" category.)

"So Damn Lucky" and "Satellite" were taken at quicker clips than their studio renditions, and for those who simply love a good song, both "You And Me" and "Everyday" were thrilling sing-alongs that seemed to satiate a crowd that appreciated the best of both worlds.

Whether it was the infectious, joyful romanticism of "If Only," the electrifying exuberance of "Two Step" that continuously ebbed and flowed in terms of tension and release, or the spontaneous solo bass version of Canada's national anthem gifted to the Toronto crowd by Stefan Lessard, Dave Matthews Band were a potently powerful endorsement of all the finest aspects of musicianship, ranging from spontaneity to the great vibes generated by a form of escapism in which everyone should occasionally indulge.

And when DMB are at their peak performance, which they were several times in Toronto, there's no better indulgence.

Set List
"Don't Drink the Water"
"The Dreaming Tree"
"Broken Things"
"Belly Belly Nice"
"Proudest Monkey"
"Belly Full"
"If Only"
"So Damn Lucky"
"You And Me"
"Jimi Thing"
"The Riff "
"O Canada"
"All Along The Watchtower" (Bob Dylan cover)
"Christmas Song"
"Drunken Soldier"
"Two Step"

To catch Dave Matthews Band in a city near you, click here for tour dates.

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