MANSFIELD — Dave Matthews has been more animated, and he’s been gabbier between songs. One of the only times he took the microphone in a non-singing capacity on Saturday was to announce that he had a frog in his throat. It seemed that on the sold-out first night of two at the Comcast Center, Matthews was feeling under the weather. Maybe that’s why he took the stage 15 minutes later than he was scheduled to.
That meant that the Dave Matthews Band only played for a scant two hours and 40 minutes, and while plenty of songs pushed or exceeded the 10-minute mark, the emphasis was indeed largely on songs, rather than extended jams. Not that he chose to forgo the latter. “Drunken Soldier” was supple and bombastic all at once, even before shifting to a spacey groove (echoed by cosmic video imagery) crossing the Grateful Dead with Pink Floyd. The closing “Two Step” incorporated a quasi-Spanish bass solo, barrages of spat-out electric-guitar notes and noise and a drum solo while building in dark intensity for 20 minutes.
But that song was also preceded directly by “Oh,” with only Matthews and electric guitarist Tim Reynolds quietly fingerpicking soothing notes. And while plenty of songs offered little more than a variation on Matthews’s “Too Much” formula of jagged “chicka-chicka” acoustic funk, that minor variation was sufficient as often as not.
Credit for that largely goes to drummer Carter Beauford, who played with a pop and roll typically associated with New Orleans brass bands even when he was adding light polyrhythms. He couldn't do anything with the calypso-like breeziness ill-suited to the lyrics of “Long Black Veil,” though, and it’s possible violinist Boyd Tinsley sang “True Reflections” so Matthews could distance himself from its pat platitudes.
But missteps generally didn’t have the opportunity to overstay their welcome, leaving more time for the Paul-Simon-fronting-the-Dead (with- Steely-Dan-guitar-licks) “Captain” and the glowering, circular acoustic figure of the increasingly tense “Warehouse.’’ The latter was the night’s second song. Diminished capacity or not, Matthews didn’t let up.
A headliner in her own right, Brandi Carlile still tipped her hat to one of the acts that shepherded her through her woodshedding days by opening for Matthews once more. Except for soaring pop epics “The Story” and “Pride And Joy,’’ she focused almost exclusively on her country side and again proved that her voice is too big for even an outdoor venue.Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @spacecitymarc.
Correction: An earlier version of this review of a Dave Matthews Band performance misidentified the band’s closing song, “Two Step.”