Concert Review: Dave Matthews Band @ SPAC (Night 1), 07/14/2023

SARATOGA SPRINGS – It felt like Christmas in July at Saratoga’s Performing Arts Center on Friday night. And not because of the weather.

Dave Matthews returned with his incommensurably talented bandmates in the Live Nation two-night show, starting off Friday night’s celebrations to screaming fans who sang along to his song “The Stone.” From the downbeat, it was clear Matthews not only has the talent to deliver a fantastic night for fans, but the joy within himself to share as well.

Photo by Dakota Gilbert

The famed South African-born musician, aged 56, has been performing SPAC since 1994, missing only a few years in between the 90s and today. It is rumored Matthews claims SPAC as his favorite venue, and even if that isn’t true, it appeared to be the case as he came out humbly to the stage on Friday, bowing and speaking not a word before he began singing.

Matthews’ band fits many genres, and the jam feel was apparent at the close of “The Stone” as sax player Jeff Coffin morphed the music into “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You.” Coffin only needed to provide the melody; the crowd sang the words, and with that, DMB set off to make history, playing into their original set list for the night.

Photo by Dakota Gilbert

From “Do You Remember” to “The Only Thing,” I was struck by how happy Matthew’s drummer Carter Beauford appeared. His smile was as broad as it was deep, and I wondered if he was, in fact, the happiest drummer on the concert circuit. Beauford’s steady drumming propelled the band through one intense rhythm to the next, with him literally never missing a beat.

By the band’s cover of Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer,” the crowd was gyrating at a frenzied rate that felt only like it could occur on a spiritual holiday. Surrounded by people of all ages, including young children in strollers, grandparents with teenagers, 20-somethings who looked like college friends, and couples in their mid-years, I was struck by how unifying Matthew’s music has been across generations.

Photo by Dakota Gilbert

This was my first DMB concert without James. I was there with my bonus kid, Dakota, whose pictures grace this article with his creative and energetic eye. And while I missed my James, I was struck once again by the sense of family among those at the concert. People were hugging, sharing food, and generally connecting with each other. I saw few cell phones out, instead watching people sing the beloved lyrics while making eye contact with other concertgoers. It was like everyone was saying, “Yeah, this is happening, and I’m here with you.”

“Madman’s Eyes” took full advantage of Coffin’s sultry sax playing, and the fans grooved with the band through the rest of the setlist with rapturous joy. Highlights from the night included “Drunken Soldier” and also a cover of Dylan’s “All Along the Watch Tower.”

Photo by Dakota Gilbert

Matthews’ voice still holds its timbre. He stretches effortlessly across the octaves, varying between the lower notes of his sexy tenor voice before touching his high notes with grace. Accompanied by his good friend and long-time bandmate Tim Reynolds on guitar, it appeared the duo appeared to be as content playing as they were when they first started together. There was a magical vibe among the musicians on stage, who have mastered the craft of recreating original energy together year after year with the excitement of an opening night.

It is no surprise that a band of this caliber plays their all-original set list flawlessly, drawing in fans year after year who benefit from the emotional reconnection to each other through rhythm and song.

DMB will be back tonight with yet another setlist. And while I personally would wish for more love songs and an acoustic set within the set, there is little else to be wished for this Christmas in July at SPAC.

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