Whether or not you care for his particular brand of mellow rock music, there’s no denying that Dave Matthews and his trusty and talented band sound consistently great in large arenas. While many groups may rise to the level of arena tours because of big album sales, many simply don’t sound good in such a large setting. But Matthews and company climbed from small clubs (like the Whisky in 1993) to large venues on the strength of outstanding performances well before album sales ever caught up with them.
At the sold-out Staples Center on Wednesday, the first of two local shows that included an outdoor show Thursday in Irvine, DMB displayed the same mix of carefree fun and technical prowess that fans have long been accustomed to. But there is no denying that this grownup version of the group is not as exciting as the one that trod the boards just a few years back.
Likable as he is, and as good a songwriter as he is, Matthews won’t win many awards for his personal skills, but he certainly has surrounded himself with the best musicians.
It’s the superb group effort, more than the front man star power, that makes a DMB show worth attending. Sax player Leroi Moore was a master of versatility, while violin player Boyd Tinsley bowed and (often) plucked his instruments to excellent effect.
The boisterous “Too Much,” from group’s 1996 release “Crash” (RCA), opened the show in strong fashion, anchored by the impressive rhythm section of funky bassist Stefan Lassard and jazzy drummer Carter Beauford, who was clad in an L.A. Lakers jersey. “I Did It,” from last year’s Grammy-winning “Everyday” album, followed, and Matthews swapped his acoustic guitar for an electric model, still a curious sight after so many years of acoustic-only shows.
Two-hour show also featured numerous cuts from DMB’s upcoming “Busted Stuff” album, basically a repackaging of group’s unreleased 2001 Steve Lillywhite-produced sessions, including title track and the elegant “Grace Is Gone.” Fan fave oldie “Satellite,” from 1993, featured a guest turn from singer Angelique Kidjo dueting on vocals with Matthews.
Dave Matthews Band plays two sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden May 28 and 29. A summer U.S. tour launches July 5 in West Palm Beach, Fla., and wraps Sept. 8 in Seattle.