The Dave Matthews Band concert Wednesday at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center was a perfect convergence of a raucous national holiday, an upbeat touring band and an open-air concert venue. In other words, it was a summertime rock ’n’ roll triumph.
Fronted by raspy-voiced, cherubic Dave Matthews (“In his skinny jeans!” exclaimed an audience member who’d driven from Dallas, Texas, for the show), the band dug into its deep archive, swinging easily between their multilayered pop tunes, strumming guitar folk balladry and radio-friendly anthems that hung in the humid night air.
Five minutes before the show, a drenching shower let loose, inspiring howls from those who braved the nearly sold-out lawn. Concert early birds were treated to an impromptu appearance by Dave, who ambled onstage to apologize for the torrential downpour.
“So I’m sorry about the rain,” he said. “It’s kind of liberating until your butt starts itching.”
He pointed out a couple in front of the lawn section, wrapped under plastic.
“The wettest wet people in Wet Town. As long as my head doesn’t explode,” Dave added, “everything should be okay.”
The show was more than OK.
Touring mightily to support their 2012 studio recording, “Away from the World,” Matthews and his deft six bandmates crafted a set – plus encore – of three hours that touched on all facets of their 20-year career.
The band’s set lists famously vary from night to night, unlike many touring bands that pick tunes and stick to ’em. The Dave Matthews Band is explosively improv. Renditions of songs wend into others, usually much shinier than their studio capturings. The band opened with the welcoming lyrics of “The Best of What’s Around,” an early hit from “Under the Table and Dreaming.” “Big Eyed Fish,” the first semi-somber ballad of the show, morphed into “Rooftop” from “Away from the World,” a song about yearning.
A high point was a 10-minute jam of “Typical Situation” that began with Dave center stage with ever-present guitar, gradually building to gorgeous violin parts by Boyd Tinsley and outward to let everyone bust loose. The song weaves together the musicians’ collaborative sounds, all grounded by the extraordinary time-keeping artistry of Carter Beauford. During the band’s restorative “encore break” nearly two hours later, Beauford stayed behind to toss dozens of drumsticks to the throng, some of which held up pleading placards. “Carter STICK-PLZ” was one such entreaty.
After a short 10 minutes, they bounded back to awaiting instruments for “JTR,” a perfect rainy-night accouterment with its words “Rain, rain, rain down on me, again and again, rain down on me.”
A horn-infused “Louisiana Bayou” showcased more of Tinsley, as well as bespectacled saxophonist Jeff Coffin and stoic trumpeter Rashawn Ross. “Ants Marching,” beginning with a comical yodel-rap by Matthews, was a perfect anthem to close the flawless, frenetic set.
Los Angeles-based Fitz and the Tantrums, no strangers to local outdoor concert fans, opened. The band, melding rock, gospel and funk, got those present swaying. Lovely vocalist Noelle Scaggs, who doubles as tambourine queen, gave a standout performance that overshadowed bandleader Michael Fitzpatrick. Their cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” was unforgettable.