In the States, with sales of more than 30 million, Dave Matthews is a superstar. In the UK, however, his band's blend of jam-band folk-blues and world music barely registers. Yet, with a substantial portion of the audience comprising itinerant members of US and Australian colleges, tickets for tonight's show were fetching £200 on the black market. The chance to see him thrashing an acoustic guitar in a 700-capacity venue rather than the Stateside enormo-dromes where his multi-racial Charlottesville-bred band usually hold court doesn't come along often.
Shambling onstage with a minimum of fuss, Matthews hoists up his trousers and adjusts his belt-buckle. After the first of many rambling but humorous monologues, he plays "Bartender", blues with a tribal beat, encompassing rasping vocals and a coda of wordless wailing. Combined with the garrulous between-song tales the performance calls to mind a stoner-Springsteen without the E Street band.
The new single "American Baby", the first of only three songs from the current Matthews Band album Stand Up, is a tender and earnest hymn to his adopted homeland, and displays a liberal decency.
"Where Are You Going", mouthed word for word by a young female fan at the lip of the stage, shows another songwriting talent; turning the openly crass chat-up line of the title into a gentle new-man lover's prayer.
The between song stories pile up: the one about the time spent growing up in early Seventies Cambridge, UK; a recent visit to his child's school play where one of the child actors inadvertently flashed the audience; and time spent out in the bush with fire-eating natives on a visit back to his South African birthplace.
And the inevitable pot-smoking story - discovering bliss, subsequent paranoia, and short term memory loss as a teen - is more entertaining than the nostalgic "Old Dirt Hill".
Much better is an unscripted divergence into an African gospel-blues mash-up centring on the line "Gonna Knock The Devil Down In His Floor". The 10-year-old "I Won't Give It Away" ensures a natural high, carried aloft on a summery groove and an audience sing-along.
Ending a set with "All Along The Watchtower" isn't even a great idea when Dylan does it, and Matthews has nothing to add to the song. But an encore, including the rapturously received "Everyday", just about saves the day.