Dave Matthews Band, Brixton Academy, London
Tuesday 30 June 2009
Before their support set for Bruce Springsteen in Hyde Park, Dave Matthews Band played a pair of "intimate" sets at Brixton Academy, one of London's largest venues. This is a group accustomed to stadium shows back home in the US; in the UK they are best known as one of the few huge American acts whose sound hasn't translated into fame this side of the pond. They remain, to an extent, uncategorisable: blues, bluegrass and jazz fusion all battle for their place in the DMB sound.
The band's well-received new album, Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, went straight to No 1 on the Billboard chart in the US and is the rockiest thing they've put on record. On the evidence of this show, they're a good fit for a bill topped by The E Street Band, boasting old-school rock mannerisms – noodly guitar lines, jokes about ale, bandannas, 10-minute drum solos – so brazenly naff that they manage to be cool.
A so-called "jam band", DMB's gigs are always full of added value: many of the songs are built around nagging, toe-tapping central riffs, which spin off into long improvisations. One example is the looping banjo hop of "Corn Bread", which here demonstrated the enviable tightness of the seven-man group.
Big Whiskey is in part a tribute to DMB's saxophonist LeRoi Moore, who died during its recording. Matthews drew the album's cover art, which features Moore as the laughing head on a Mardi Gras parade float. At Brixton he dedicated a song to his fallen comrade, the driving bluegrass boogie "Why I Am". Moore's death creeps into the lyrics elsewhere, as does Hurricane Katrina's effect on the parade's home, New Orleans, the waters rising around Matthews' daughter Stella, perched on a rooftop in "Alligator Pie".
More Big Whiskey highlights in the set included the melancholy "Funny the Way it is" and "Lying in the Hands of God", with an airy saxophone line that recalls nothing so much as Sting's "Englishman in New York".
There was little sign of some of their biggest songs, such as "The Space Between" or "Crash into Me", but the magnificent "Two Step" from 1996's Crash LP was the centrepiece of a rousing encore, producing a deafening response from a crowd not entirely composed of Americans. Some of the band's endless jams have as many false endings as a Lord of the Rings movie, but Matthews and co did not outstay their welcome.
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