For someone who’s lived in Seattle somewhere between 20 and 150 years (his words), Dave Matthews rarely convenes his namesake band in the Emerald City, saving their juice for their annual Labor “Dave” weekend blowouts at the Gorge Amphitheatre. The rootsy rock star is certainly present in the local music community, popping up for various benefit gigs, low-key and semiprivate solo or duo sets with guitarist Tim Reynolds, and working with artists like Port Townsend bluegrass renegade Danny Barnes.
But the Dave Matthews Band ended a 16-year drought in epic fashion Friday at a packed Climate Pledge Arena, playing this side of the Cascades for the first time since a 2006 date opening for The Rolling Stones at Qwest Field. And according to Matthews, their last Seattle headliner was another 10 years before that.
Perhaps enticed by Seattle finally having a good-sounding room big enough for them — and the sound was superb last night — the jammy juggernauts made up for any lost time, busting loose with a three-hour marathon that ran the gamut of their expansive sound, often within the same song.
Rippling and woozy trumpet and sax solos from two-man horn section Rashawn Ross and Jeff Coffin opened a potent “Seek Up” that boiled into a proggy, jazz-rock storm that was just the first extended jam of the song. “Sometimes I feel like I’m faaaaaalling,” Matthews softly injected as the song came up for a breath of folk-rock air, his eyebrows darting up when punctuating a note.
Carter Beauford’s drums sounded crisp and robust, his thunder-and-roll panache joining Stefan Lessard’s mischievous bass line that had a steadying presence through the song’s various turns, including a pranging bridge deftly teased out by pianist/keyboardist Buddy Strong and some of Reynold’s rootsier guitar work.
For a number of reasons, DMB has always been a polarizing love-’em-or-hate-’em band with a die-hard fan base that’s basically an ecosystem of its own. But the talent in the versatile seven-piece unit is impossible to deny and when they’re cookin’ like they were on Friday, there are few bands of their size and caliber who can touch them.
DMB’s amalgam of roots rock, funk, blues, jazz and more is an organic genre-fusing sound that might seem more at home in a town like New Orleans than the rainy Northwest. At times they sound like all the side stages at the Crescent City’s Jazz & Heritage Festival rolled into one jam-rocking band, especially on choppy funk-rock stomper “Louisiana Bayou,” which capped the pre-encore portion of their set. Between the well-oiled musicianship and Climate Pledge’s intimate-for-an-arena feel, Friday’s show felt more like one of NOLA’s late-night Jazz Fest after-parties (minus the fedoras) when all the top-tier musicians in town descend upon the city’s infinite clubs.
That free-swinging, ready-to-jam feel was bolstered by cameos from a pair of Seattle all-stars, starting with Mike McCready. The Pearl Jam guitarist joined Matthews and the gang for a rumbling, rambunctious turn through the Bob Dylan-penned (and Jimi Hendrix-reinvented) “All Along the Watchtower,” with McCready making for a triple-guitar attack and locking in for his own Hendrix-channeling solo.
“Now what are we gon’ do?!” asked Matthews afterward with a no-effs-given, Southern dad goofiness that matched the paternal dance moves he busted earlier while bellowing his way through DMB’s fun, crowd-pleasing cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer.”
Matthews’ next hometown guest was progressive sax master Skerik, the ubiquitous Seattle hornsman with a million projects, including the jazzy, funk-rocking trio Garage a Trois, who reliably slayed a Nectar Lounge gig a few weeks ago. Skerik bolstered the horn section on another Hendrix-referencing tune, DMB’s “Jimi Thing.” What started as a temporary cooldown became a jumping off point for a squiggly funk freakout, with a rip-and-wail solo from Skerik.
For all the freewheeling fun, Matthews did bring a little bit of business to the table. Before kicking off DMB’s tour in Vancouver on Wednesday, Matthews was actually on the campaign trail, lending his rock-star celebrity to a couple of Rust Belt Democrats, including John Fetterman, who’s squaring off with celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz in a high-stakes race for an open Pennsylvania Senate seat.
Addressing a friendly Climate Pledge Arena crowd, Matthews encouraged fans to vote ahead of Tuesday’s midterm elections, while endorsing incumbent Washington Sen. Patty Murray.
Politics aside, let’s hope it doesn’t take DMB another couple of Senate terms to play in Matthews’ backyard again.