Concert Reviews

Dave Matthews Concert Review (Cleveland, OH; 04.20.18)

Dave Matthews Concert Review | Cleveland, OH | The Agora Theatre | 04.20.18 | (Fundraiser for Dennis Kucinich)

On April 6, word trickled across the interwebs that the incomparable Dave Matthews would be performing a rare solo show as a campaign fundraiser for Ohio gubernatorial candidate, Dennis Kucinich on April 20.

The news surprised almost everyone, save this review writer, who predicted Matthews would perform at such a fundraiser the minute Kucinich threw his hat in the race to be Ohio’s governor. After all, this astute review writer recalled multiple interview conversations with Matthews’ close friend and collaborator, Tim Reynolds, who sang Dennis’ praises each time. Kucinich was also instrumental in The Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds show in support of Standing Rock. (Matthews even shared from the stage tonight that he and Kucinich drove through a snowstorm to the event.)

Matthews and Kucinich have parallel views on critical issues such as farmer-friendly initiatives, climate change, green energy, and perhaps, most important, gun control (of note: Matthews lost his sister and an uncle to gun violence).

News travels faster than the speed of light across the wX3 about everything. Everything, that is, except this fundraiser! The show took three hours to sell out. While ordinarily an impressive feat, consider that tickets for Dave Matthews Band’s upcoming show at Blossom Music Center saw every pavilion seat (more than 5,000 tickets) snatched up within minutes of public on-sale at prices on par with this show that organizers disclosed roughly 1,500 tickets were available for.

Chalk it up to political differences? Blame it on short notice? Fans operating under the false notion that Dave minus his band is less entertaining? 

Where’s the love for the intimate venue? Where’s the awe of seeing Dave’s talents shine on their own merits? How about the opportunity to hear versions of DMB tunes sans 20-minute squeaks and squawks of out of tune violin and honking sax solos? (No disrespect, Boyd & Jeff. Much love for you both!)

Tickets did go quickly; just not as quick as one would have anticipated. “Early Bird” rear general admission floor tickets were made available for a bargain $60 (the price of a lawn ticket to see DMB this summer), while other standard tickets ranged from $100 – $150. A variety of VIP upgrades were available, including a pre-show, meet & mingle with Dave & Dennis, which reportedly required a donation of at least $1,250.

But enough insider baseball…

Without introduction, Cleveland natives Front Porch Lights quietly took the stage for a 30-minute acoustic set. The crowd was respectful, and at times, quite appreciative of the band’s mellow-vibed tunes. Odd, considering when DMB toured with openers back in the day, they were virtually ignored with most of the crowd still chugging cheap beer and blasting “So Much to Say” in the parking lot. Frontman Conor Standish, who credited Matthews as the reason he ever picked up a guitar, showed impressive poise in what was undoubtedly the biggest stage (literally and figuratively) and peak moment of his young career. The group played it safe, which is more/less a compliment over a knock. They delivered a Head and the Heart (ish) like set and did exactly what one would expect from a local opener. Bravo.

After a 30 minute recess, Kucinich and his running mate, Tara L. Samples strolled out on to the stage. Dennis gave a quick speech about his commonalities with Dave, reminded attendees that May 8 is voting day, and requested a “tremendous Ohio Welcome” for Matthews. Dave and Dennis embraced onstage.

Opening with a new tune that Matthews debuted at Farm Aid in September of 2017 titled “Do You Remember,” (a new favorite of this preview writer), the chorus lyrics read “the enemy’s coming / we should take cover / the odds are against us.” The song is similar to tunes heard on Dave Matthews Band’s 1998 release, ‘Before These Crowded Streets.’

Video courtesy of YouTube user Brian Letner

“I hope you get you who vote for, and I hope you vote for Dennis,” Matthews quipped before continuing to the next song. He also showed his sense of humor when recalling that Kucinich, moments ago, made note that Willie Nelson had introduced the two of them. Dave joked that it meant he HAD to support Dennis. “I couldn’t be like, ‘thanks, Willie! But…NAH,” he said in sarcastic fashion.

Tonight was a nostalgic trip for any true Dave Matthews fans. Dave played songs from his early days (“Best of What’s Around”; “Satellite”), unreleased songs (“Do You Remember”; “Samurai Cop”), songs that even the casual fan could sing along to (“Crush”; “Ants Marching”), true-fan favorites (“#41”; “Dreaming Tree”), a cover of Tex Ritter’s “Rye Whiskey,” along with six other gems. Something for everyone! (Complete setlist follows this review!)

Oddly enough, according to Matthews’ setlist that sat in front of him onstage, he was supposed to play “Two Step” and “So Much to Say” to close the show. Instead, both songs were scratched and he closed with “Crush.”

Seth Avett (of Avett Brothers fame) told this review writer in a 2017 interview that Willie Nelson and Elvis Presley are two of the most underappreciated musicians of all time. While on the surface, these remarks are puzzling, Seth went on to explain that Nelson is labeled more as a pot advocate and hippie and Presley a novelty act instead of being known for their musical abilities.

Add Matthews to that class, but for different reasons. Dave Matthews Band is known for virtually no other reason than selling platinum albums and one of the best concert tickets anyone can buy. That being said, Matthews, though the band’s namesake, surprisingly is discredited due to the prowess of his bandmates. Drummer Carter Beauford is quite possibly second only to Rush’s Neil Peart behind the kit, bass prodigy Stefan Lessard helps anchor the band’s rhythm, and the late LeRoi Moore’s woodwind solos contribute to the overshadowing of Dave.

Tonight was Matthews’ chance to shine. Shine he did. From his guitar playing, vocal range, and improvised scatting used as a substitute for other instruments fans are used to hearing in DMB, proved once and for all that Matthews is amongst the all-time great frontmen of his time.

Matthews and his bandmates are a virtual lock for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s class of 2019, their first year of eligibility. Tonight’s event showcased why.

After roaring applause in approval of the encore quieted, Kucinich again embraced Matthews onstage and reminded the audience that May 8 is voting day.

Not unlike Matthews’ “Vote for Change” tour in support of presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004, the focus was on the music; not the candidate. Just the way it should be.

Matthews exited the stage, leaving fans sated, yet anxious to hear DMB’s forthcoming album (due for a Spring release) and annual Summer tour.

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