Dave Matthews Band opened for itself at 7:30 p.m., while many fans were still navigating the Ak-Chin Pavilion parking lot situation and long lines at will call. For this set, Dave Matthews performed the first three songs by himself. Then, his bandmates stood side by side, playing as acoustically as they could at the edge of the stage with a simple backdrop of “walls” created out of steel wheels.
DMB is known for its improvisation-packed live shows, and while this part of the show was a bit more like open mic night a few songs, such as “What Would You Say” were still blown open for jazz-influenced improvisation — and a flute solo by Jeff Coffin.
Phoenix was the final North American stop on the group’s world tour, so Matthews spent some time thanking his crew and bandmates for the previous shows.
Overall, Matthews is a versatile vocalist. He frequently changed his voice between songs from nasally to bluesy. However, his solid band members are really what make the show particularly fun. Violinist Boyd Tinsley’s solos are striking in a way that makes you want to kick your shoes off and dance around a bonfire. Audience members in the lawn may have been at an advantage to fully enjoy those moments under the light rain that fell about an hour into the show.
The first set lasted an hour and was followed by a 30-minute break, after which the band returned to a stage setup befitting an arena show and DMB’s cult popularity. (Note: Whenever Matthews said, “Thank you,” at least one fan would always say, “No, thank you!”) The electric guitars were also on parade for the second half, and Matthews’ eyebrows were revved to rise and fall in that rhythmic signature of his.
The group debuted “Black and Bluebird,” a song that Matthews said is about everything and nothing.
“No. 41” was the audience’s first introduction to many, many, many and many future jam sessions and solos. Though DMB tends to get a bad rep for jamming indulgence, the band is stacked with incredible musicians. The songs are all easily broken wide open for long aural stretches and primarily jazz-influenced improvisation, which harks back to many of the members’ musical roots at the formation of the band.
“We hope we did our part,” Matthews said after a mind-blowing, multi-solo’d “Lie in Our Graves.”
Before the encore, drummer and thunder god Carter Beauford spent a good minute throwing sticks and gloves to the audience.
The first encore song, “Two Step,” was moving, and overall the encore felt darker than the rest of the show. Matthews’ voice hinged on indigenous. And the angsty, thrashing, red-lit stage for “Halloween” was impressive and a wonderful, dark turn for the show and Matthews.
After a final growl from the singer — and the obligatory peanut butter and jelly time — Matthews, string limply swinging from his guitar’s neck, wished everyone a good night and disappeared backstage while fans screamed “don’t stop.”
Last Night: Dave Matthews Band at Ak-Chin Pavilion
The crowd: Bros, basics, and people who were in college in the ‘90s.
Overheard: A fan who screamed “Don’t stop,” after every song, even after the band had been playing for two hours. My favorite overheard moment of the night concerned ticket bargaining. A woman walked by the will call line to offer a free lawn ticket to anyone who needed one. After a few seconds, a guy dug into his jorts for his wallet and said, “I’ll give you $20 for it.”
Personal Bias: I used to joke that the only DMB song I knew was “Even Flow.” (That’s by Pearl Jam, by the way, whose lead singer, Eddie Vedder, Matthews sometimes mimics pretty well in his performances.)
(May have missed the first and second song, due to being in the will-call line between 7:10 and 7:40 p.m.)
“Little Red Bird”
“What Would You Say”
“Lover Lay Down”
“Black and Bluebird”
“So Much to Say”
“You and Me”
“Lie in Our Graves”
“That Song That Jane Likes”
“Jimi Thing” (Included a brief cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”)