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Matthews Plays to the Converted

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It was printed right there on the tickets to Saturday’s Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds concert at the Pantages Theatre: permission for concert-goers to tape the show. Fans took full advantage of the situation, as microphones sprouted among the orchestra seats, and one even dangled from the balcony. It was hippie-rock tradition, handed straight down from the Grateful Dead.

The audience, ranging from teens to fortysomethings, embraced Matthews’ performance as unconditionally as most Deadheads too. This was, after all, a rare chance to catch the leader of the Dave Matthews Band in a different setting--unplugged. Although Matthews hit the road with old friend and guitarist Reynolds last year between his band’s tours, this trek marks the first time the duo has brought its act to California. And, to the people’s great delight, the bulk of the sold-out, three-hour Pantages show consisted of Matthews’ hits and favorites.

Fans reveled in the song choices, shouting their approval, loudly singing along, and at least attempting, before the ushers stopped them, to dance in the aisles. As the night wore on, the cheering continued, augmented by several standing ovations.

Never mind that the stripped-down presentation only reinforced the songs’ chief weaknesses: They say relatively little and sound alarmingly similar. Despite Reynolds’ injections of such instrumental colors as slide and flamenco guitar, Matthews’ bare-bones blend of hippie-rock and folk-jazz quickly grew painfully dull, even though the pair often played with intense emotion and spirit.

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Matthews could make his resonant tenor warmly understated, but he tended to wield it too dramatically, like Sting, and often pushed his vocals over the top. There was little instrumental interplay; rather, Matthews generally provided the basic melody, and Reynolds either followed along or filled in rhythm and flourishes.

Relaxed and gregarious, Matthews was so much among friends he didn’t need to announce song titles--everyone knew every (invariably bouncy) tune, from such current faves as “Crash Into Me” to older hits such as “What Would You Say” and “Ants Marching.” Audience members roared at every mundane aside and scatological anecdote he uttered. It wasn’t surprising, then, that they also cheered every ascending chord progression, every shift from loud to soft and back, as if it were the mark of a virtuoso player.

Still, the audience wasn’t totally undiscriminating. It was more than happy to groove on the duo’s moody rendition of Daniel Lanois’ hymn-like ballad “The Maker.” But, while many politely mustered enthusiasm for the first of Reynolds’ two solo numbers--improvisational, tape-looped jams that, if not completely discordant, were pretty esoteric--many others opted for bathroom or bar breaks during his second tune.


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