This has been noted before, but Dave Matthews fans are a funny bunch. Funny, but dedicated. Upon arriving at the Verizon Wireless Ampitheater parking lot, I traipsed by several tail-gaters blaring DMB tunes and drinking beer a good six hours before Dave's set. Did they realize that his set would be all acoustic and contain only traces of the frenetic, jam-heavy vibes that made him a concert mega-star? Would they care?
For Farm Aid 2009, Matthews paired with longtime collaborator Tim Reynolds for a seven-song set of spare but forceful renditions of old and new numbers. Matthews, clad in jeans and blue Oxford shirt, sounded a little hoarse and froggy at times but shared his rambling, dry sense of humor with the crowd.
The set began with "Funny the Way it is," one of three songs performed from this year's Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King. The two acoustic guitars overwhelmed the vocals for most of the song, but elsewhere in the set the duo played against each other and brought out the dark and rootsy undertones of Matthews' songbook. Reynolds, looking like a cipher in shades and a black leather jacket, gave some spirited picking and resonant slide guitar to "Grace is Gone" and used his effects pedals to simulate a weeping violin solo elsewhere in the set.
Matthews and Reynolds had the good fortune to perform as the sun was setting, and the bucolic "Stay or Leave," with its images of late-night trips to the riverbanks, coincided beautifully with the end of an Indian summer afternoon. And as darkness fell, so too did the mood: Willie Nelson, ever the Farm Aid diplomat, joined Matthews and Reynolds for a haunting pass at "Gravedigger," a song perfectly suited for Nelson's quavering tenor voice.
The set ended with the only real "hit" of night, a driving take on "Dancing Nancies." It was here that Reynolds earned his keep, spinning off a flamenco-inspired solo that propelled the song towards its peak and no doubt reminded the die-hards why they keep coming back for more.
1. "Funny the Way it is" 2. "Grace is Gone" 3. "Stay or Leave" 4. "Gravedigger" (with Willie Nelson) 5. "Baby Blue" 6. "You & Me" 7. "Dancing Nancies"