Expanded to seven pieces for a tour supporting their fourth chart-topping album “Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King,” the Dave Matthews Band followed the tack of their early years — let the ensemble get the crowd swaying and don’t let up, even if it means dropping popular songs. Like few other bands lumped into the jam band genre, Dave Matthews — 15 years after their debut recording — is nimbly balancing the simultaneous peddling of a vibe and the selling of a song.
The Dave Matthews Band was forced to regroup after the August 2008 death of founding saxophonist LeRoi Moore, and their musical success has been spurred by muscular musicianship being favored over romantic ballads. The methodology has hardly changed, however. Matthews shrewdly layers instrumental sounds or deconstructs them to generate a maximum emotional resonance with the audience; “The Stone,” for example, opens more delicately paced than usual — guitar and fiddle, percussion and baritone sax entering and overlapping until the song expands into a crisp reproduction of the album version. Twisting the familiar just slightly pays extraordinary dividends for Matthews.
Matthews’ signature elasticity characterized the 18 songs performed over two hours and 20 minutes at the second of two sold-out nights at the Greek. Yet that light-as-air quality that has yielded weary moments in the past has dissipated. Much of it owes to the new material: Eight of the album’s 13 songs made it into the set with “Why I Am” positioned as the centerpiece following a glowing rendition of crowd fave “Everyday.” “Why I Am” was given a prelude that ventured into Afrobeat and a line from “Shaft,” one of several opportunities for trumpeter Rashawn Ross and drummer Carter Beauford to flex their funk chops.
Bulk of the DMB’s shows have been in large amphitheaters and basketball arenas — opening night was oddly in Madison Square Garden — and thus the Greek show was a rare chance to catch Matthews in a relatively intimate setting. While there were no surprises, the improvisations felt a little looser, and the give-and-take between performer and audience considerably more visceral.
A dozen songs were performed Wednesday that did not make it into the Thursday show and, based on titles alone, the first night seemed much more oriented toward the hits and love songs that helped Matthews build a considerable female audience — a rare commodity in any musical form that values improvisation. Night two was one for the musicians.