Dave Matthews provides the quintessential tailgating backdrop
By JOSHUA LIEBERSON
STATIC and FEEDBACK correspondent
Living in the city, I rarely get a chance to tailgate at a concert. In fact, life is great when you can simply jump on the L to the N and get to Madison Square Garden in 20 minutes without having to worry about the long journey home afterwards. If I want to go to some of the other fantastic venues in town, it’s a one or two train ride, and rarely more than 30 minutes. It’s convenient, but it takes away part of what most of Americana considers an essential part of the concert experience: getting blasted in the parking lot so you don’t have to pay for beer inside.
So it was with a bit of excitement and a feeling of patriotism (okay, that’s a stretch) that we embarked upon Super Stop & Shop for some brew and a bag of ice. We chose a six-pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and a Sam Adams mix of Summer Ale and Sam Light for those summer drinkers. We have good taste.
Load up the cooler and the sandwich meat, and go full speed in the rain for HARTFORD! That shining beacon that bands of all shapes and sizes look at the calendar and yelp out a fantastic cry of indifference. And a shining beacon of a city it was: the traffic lights are fantastically timed to stay green for less than 15 seconds, yet somehow remain red for 5 minutes at a time. Just try making a left onto Market Street sometime. The lovely city planned way ahead for the night by having zero traffic cops on the scene for the way in (I’ll mention the “get on the sidewalk or I’ll run you the f--- over” traffic control scheme later on). Before my tangent goes too far and I alienate all the folks I know from Hartford (zero, well…except for the guy in the Joba Chamberlain t-shirt that I made friends with), let’s get to that parking lot fun.
First, the obligatory shout-outs to Gina (who was looking Gatorade diet thin on this evening), Andy, and of course my fantastic girlfriend (whom I promised I would not crack wise here about our Hartford troubles … I am hoping this is something of a compromise). Whatever I write further on these pages, they were all a great time, and made the evening far more than Dave himself could ever hope to. Or in prototypical 1990s shout-out form: “I gotta shout out for Thinny Ginatorade, Ray Ray (Andy), and my girl from around the way…peace y’all!”
Okay, on to the show. And by that, I mean, Dave Matthews Band. We missed Alejandro Escavedo (or so we called him) because we were too busy drinking beer and eating sandwich meat (see above). We got in just in time for our finishing act, and we obtained the choice spot thanks in no small part to Gina, who bobbed and weaved until we were in the center of the crowd on the hill, directly in front of center-stage. My first impression of those around us was that there were no shrieking 15-year old girls. In fact, this was a decidedly hardcore Dave crowd. Awesome. Mostly. We noticed to our left were two people who decided $50 per ticket is best spent trying to find out how close one can be to having sex without actually fully pulling clothes off. We theorized that perhaps they were just friends for years, and suddenly realized with Dave hitting the stage that they were meant for each other all along. Either way, they were going for a record: the longest make-out session in concert history.
The band came out to “Bartender,” an unexpected but certainly welcome starter. All along I’ve felt that was a stronger song from their catalog despite gracing the second album in a string of three directly responsible for my five-year hiatus from the band. The band followed that up going into “Rapunzel,” which is one of those songs I like hearing live quite a bit. I was getting into the show early despite the rain (I bought ponchos, they kinda worked), which was a good sign for the night. And the make-out couple was still hard at work: song count at three.
Next up is “Crash Into Me”, which I immediately tuned out. I’ve never liked the song at all, and tonight was no exception. The positive part of the placement of the song was that it guaranteed that make-out couple would keep their shot at the Guiness World Record. After a couple of songs, make-out couple leaves the scene at song six (maybe they heard me mocking them), either to find another spot suitable for hooking up, or perhaps they left the show all together for a different setting. I welcomed their departure, wondering only whether that record was ever broken, as well as what the record actually was. At least now I could focus on the show at hand.
The rest of the first set went well, with the band playing a variety of hits against songs I had never heard. I knew most of what I was listening to though, which in my mind means it was a strong set. Particularly strong was “Tripping Billies,” which the whole crowd loved, from verses and choruses through the fantastic jam in between, closing out the first set. The only disappointment thus far had been Tim Reynolds. My expectations were heightened by the live albums he’s done with Dave in the past. This was not so good. Sporting what looked like a Flying-V of some sort and what looked like a Strat, Reynolds was constantly out of place with the rest of the band, either noodling far more aimlessly than the rest of the band or soloing out in what is best saved for Warrant and Poison concerts. Not one of his jams had any feeling in it, or gave the feeling that he wanted anything more than to be in one of the two bands mentioned above. To get the idea, trying splicing the musical scene in Billy Madison, where Adam Sandler realizes he must finish high school despite being framed for cheating, with Gone With the Wind. No matter how you slice it, “I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”
Despite my good thoughts (save for Reynolds) on the first set, the encore was entirely songs I didn’t know and mostly wouldn’t care to. Closing out with Sly Stone’s “Thank You” wasn’t the worst they could do, though, as it was infectious enough that many were singing it on the way out the venue. It was a testament to bands being influenced by other bands they tour with, since it had the ring of a typical Robert Randolph tune, which by my estimation is not a bad thing at all.
There were songs I would have preferred, but it ended the show on a rather upbeat note, and I left feeling, despite all the distractions and other things going on, that I had not missed a beat in the Dave Matthews Band world. While this show may not rank among the pantheon of great shows I’ve been lucky enough to witness, it will be long remembered for the City of Hartford, the make-out extravaganza, and most importantly, the first concert of many to come with my wonderful girl.
Being that this is an especially long review, I’ll close it out with a fun moment as we departed the venue. As we crossed the pathway leading to the main avenue, we heard a loud horn blaring of a motorcade trying to make it through. When we looked back, we saw a giant bus with all the members of the band sitting at the front window, waving goodbye to the fans. I think it is fantastic that they did this, as it added a personal touch to what was already a very fun night. It is nice to see a band realize that they exist because of their fans, and not merely in spite of them.
As we made our way on Market Street toward the car, the City of Hartford paid us one last thanks with a big “please come again!” gesture. To keep fans from spilling on to the street (because naturally 30,000 fans simultaneously leaving a concert venue stick to the sidewalk), police cars were riding up and down the street with their sirens and lights flashing, close enough to the curb that if you didn’t get on the sidewalk, they would run you over. Now that’s class. I’ve been to this venue in the past where there were security issues, and I thought it was possibly an isolated incident…but now I am sure that Hartford security guards and police officers clearly have their head in the sand and a stick up their…well…let’s just say the experience reminded me that I have no need to return to majestic Hartford any time soon.