The show at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater kicked off with Dave Matthews himself casually walking out on stage and talking with the crowd about trivial things such as ear wax. He was funny and engaging, and the point of his initial appearance was to thank the audience and then warmly introduce the opening act, Brandi Carlile, whom he described as "a beautiful person."
Brandi Carlile is hardly a newcomer (her fifth album, "Bear Creek," was released last month), and the musicians of her rock/alt-country Seattle band proved themselves as solid, well-polished performers. They opened with "Dreams," a fast-paced rock song that successfully launched the excitement and momentum of the fully-packed Verizon Wireless Amphitheater. The band is comprised of Carlile (vocals and guitar), twin brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth (electric bass, electric/acoustic guitar) and recently added members Josh Neumann (cello, violin, mandolin) and Allison Miller on drums.
Carlile's beautifully-powerful voice is graced with soul, projection and the ability to transition seamlessly from a low note to a high note within the same lyric. Sometimes live performances lack studio-smoothed singing that we grow accustomed to hearing on records. Brandi, however, nailed a hugely-varied vocal range. Several concert-goers near me commented on her amazing voice as she sang through "What Can I Say," and then held her own for the more aggressive "Raise Hell."
Equally remarkable were the tight three-part harmonies between Carlile and the Hanseroth twins. Their combined voices in key areas, especially during new song "Hard Way Home," was truly enchanting. Her eight-song set was complete with the widely popular "The Story," which delivered one of the night's more entertaining electric guitar leads.
Dave Matthews reappeared and joined Brandi for an acoustic cover of John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery." I've heard this covered by a few solo artists, but I favored last night's duo; maybe because it was live, but even more so due to the blending of Dave and Brandi's voices against the acoustic guitar. That was definitely one of the highlights of the evening.
Carlile was personable and talkative with the audience, and she was incredibly gracious and thanked St. Louis for their kindness towards her band. She was sweet, adorably dressed in her vest, blue neck tie and flat cap, and won over the crowd with her unpredictable set ending, "Bohemian Rhapsody." Everyone sang along at her request, and heck yes, we all head banged at that climactic moment. They finished out the song with an unruly rocked out reverence the song deserves. Overall, Carlile's performance was incredible, complemented by a charming personality and an exceptional singing voice. The entire set was enjoyable and packed with cool guitar riffs, fantastic fiddle work and get-on-your-feet drums.
And then, of course, began the night's headliner, the eclectic Dave Matthews Band (DMB). It had been about 10 years since I'd last seen the group perform, and I'm happy to say that his live show has not deteriorated or tarnished whatsoever. They opened with "Don't Drink the Water" to a psyched-up crowd. The first part of the show was mostly older songs, later moving towards more recent material, many of which generated heartfelt audience sing-alongs and ardent jazzy / rock instrumentals. DMB has mastered stretching out jam sessions, the stuff music fans eat up; the audience was mesmerized by the musicianship. That's partly due to the jaw-dropping solos by each supporting band member: Boyd Tinsley (violin), Carter Beauford (drums), Stefan Lessard (bass), Jeff Coffin (sax), Rashawn Ross (trumpet) and St. Louisan Tim Reynolds (electric guitar).
Other notable songs performed included "Proudest Monkey," "Satellite," "Shake Me Like A Monkey" and "Jimi Thing," for which Dave offered, "I play this song 'cuz I like it all the way." "Crush" was preceded by the bassist playing the intro to Mumford & Son's "The Cave"; this was my favorite moment of the set.
Ultimately, DMB's show was fun: cool psychedelic lighting, a wide variety of songs to dance to or sit back and soak in and an overall feeling of celebrating happiness and peaceful existence through music.
One last thing: Holy Encore. Exiting the stage after an exhilarating "Ants Marching," the band returned for an encore performance which began with "Star Spangled Banner" on bass leading into the entire band covering Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower." Awesome work: beginning acoustically in the likes of Dylan, and exploding into an electrified Jimi Hendrix likeness. Needless to say, DMB delivered one of the best shows I've seen this year, a show that was certainly accentuated by the talent of opener Brandi Carlile.