Matthews delights faithful at Fenway Park

A review of the Dave Matthews Band and Willie Nelson at Fenway Park on May 29, 2009

, Managing Editor

The Dave Matthews Band began their two-night stay in Boston with old pal Willie Nelson on Friday night, kicking off a weekend of jam bands at “America’s Most Beloved Ballpark”. A different kind of “Fenway Faithful” provided the cheers that would roar out of the park all night as if the Sox were hammering the Yanks.

Fans swarmed into the park as the lights signaled the show’s start. The band emerged from behind a giant white curtain as fans clad in their DMB and Red Sox gear cheered with the excitement of a ten year old at a Jonas Brothers concert (ok, maybe not with quite that much excitement). Dave and the gang started their& two and half hour-plus marathon set with “Funny The Way It Is”, the first single off their newest release, Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King. Several new songs were featured throughout the evening with enough old favorites mixed in to keep the more casual fans appeased.

Scores of fans decided to go green as the first wave of weed breezed by during “Pig” (I think there was more grass in the stands than on the Fenway outfield). The cheery “Seven” then preceded the dark “Gravedigger”, on which opener Willie Nelson was invited to join in.&

A scorching cover of the Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House” was more fun than the original with fans partying in their seats. Next, Dave calmed the legions down with a mellower choice in his classic “Crash Into Me”, which had some fans embracing while everyone else was singing. The band’s first jam session was delivered during “You Might Die Trying”, as almost every member of the band had their time in the spotlight, including guest guitarist and DMB collaborator Tim Reynolds, who shined all evening. Another collaborator, Jeff Coffin, filling in for the dearly departed LeRoi Moore, would also steal the spotlight on several occasions. Although Moore left some big shoes to fill, DMB could not have found a more outstanding replacement than Coffin with his multi-instrumental prowess.

The epic medley of “So Much To Say” to “Anyone Seen the Bridge” with a touch of “Too Much” into “Ants Marching” was magical. The audience sang every word to start while they grooved to the jam-out in the middle and ended with cameras and phones in the air to capture the fan-beloved “Ants Marching”.&

Perhaps worn out from the medley, the crowd appeared mostly unresponsive to “The Dreaming Tree” despite some impressive musicianship, particularly Coffin’s flute solo. New track “Spaceman” segued into “Cornbread” during which Matthews unleashed a country-inspired boogie as he flailed around the stage with kicks that would put Elaine Benes to shame. Although Dave is known for grooving throughout his sets this dance was surely something in a class of it’s own.

Reynolds wailing away on his guitar got the crowd into “Time Bomb” before “Grey Street” closed out the main set. Lighters filled the air in anticipation of the band’s return as a DMB show is one of the few shows where lighters are still an option over cell phones for mood setting. Dave returned to the stage alone with his guitar to play the gentle, humorous “Rye Whiskey”. “Everyday” had all of Fenway singing like it was “Sweet Caroline” time in the 8th inning before the blaring crescendo of “All Along the Watchtower” supplied a thrilling finale.&

Although it wasn’t their strongest set list, Dave Matthews and company provided a proper blend of songs new and old. With Big Whiskey not yet released it wasn’t expected that the crowd would connect as easily with the new songs, however the band’s outstanding instrumental abilities kept the audience in the right groove no matter the song choice.

The legendary Willie Nelson opened the show with a mainly uninspiring set in front of an undersized audience. Nelson may have been trying to connect with the youthful audience with booze-themed songs such as “Whiskey River” and “Beer For My Horses”, but did not provide enough excitement to draw fans into the park. Still, those that were in attendance appreciated staples “On the Road Again” and “Always On My Mind”. Nelson slowly picked up steam throughout his set and finished strong with “City of New Orleans” before sounding his best when reappearing later with Matthews.

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