"Thank you for indulging us."
Oh, Dave ... sweet, affable, generous Dave.
That quote came from the man behind Dave Matthews band Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center at some point during a jam-rock marathon lasting more than three hours. The sold-out crowd of around 14,000? Riveted. For the casual observer? The evening proved an engaging endurance test, one that showcased virtuosic musicianship while straining patience. DMB is the type of band that will opt for five extended fiddle jams, because four would just be ridiculous. The Virginia rockers' devoted fanbase seemed to agree.
Wednesday's show was divided into two acts: an 80-minute acoustic appetizer followed by a neverending plugged-in concert. Although it began with warm, stripped-down covers of Procol Harum ("Whiter Shade of Pale”) and Neil Young ("The Needle & the Damage Done"), the first set wasn't all that quiet, with horn blurts and fiddle carving foreshadowing the many, many extended groove sessions to come. A cheer erupted upon the first bongo bop; it was that kind of crowd. Dave's skibbity-doo-bop-skibbity-beep delivery was especially pronounced on "Tripping Billies," while "Typical Situation" shifted between stoner mood music and dramatic, sweeping highs.
"At some point we'll stop playing, I don't know when," Matthews warned ahead of intermission.
The second act featured beefed-up lighting, a jumbotron, and increased twisty-knee dancing from Matthews. Violinist Boyd Tinsley, a clear fan favorite, served up innumerable solos. In fact, each of the band's players showcased their craft time and time again, and the engrossed crowd could not get enough. How many saxophone breakdowns is too many? Not a question to pose to this cultish and crispy fanbase. The eight-minute — eight-minute! — rendition of old-school DMB favorite "Proudest Monkey" is a decent metaphor for the group. There are gorgeous, down-tempo moments; there are intricate, soaring jams (so many soaring jams). But, at the base level, it's a song called "Proudest Monkey." Leonard Cohen, he ain't. But he doesn't need to be, either. Dave's a talented, good-timing bro who caters to eager, good-timing bros. The system works.
Newer DMB offerings like "Black and Blue Bird" and "Virginia in the Rain" traded spirited funk for soft rock, tempering audience dancing ever so slightly. At one point, Dave's banter was literal gibberish punctuated with textbook hippie dancing. The crowd loved it. "Squirm" was the closest approximation of full-on rock 'n' roll, with fan screams meeting its Flying V guitar riffs. White-boy funk levels were high — as were other things — on "So Much to Say." Another DMB classic, "Lie In Our Graves," somehow lasted just a couple minutes. Beach ball. Frisbee. Skoobidy-boo-ba-ha-skibbity.
An encore ... dear god, an encore ... kept fans joyously locked-in through "Sister" and "Belly Belly Nice." It's impossible to level a complaint against the show Dave Matthews Band delivered on Wednesday. Enraptured fans paid $55 to see their favorite band. In return, they got a shit-load of huge vibes and expert jamming. An edited-down approach — hey, what a concept! — would not have improved their experience. DMB knows its audience, its strengths, its sweet spot. These performances are not intended for indifferent attendees, and, mercifully, very few at Xcel matched that profile.
Critic's bias: The beach blankets for sale at the merch booth summed up my perception of DMB.
Notes on the opener: Keep an eye out for that Dave Matthews Band.
Random notebook dump: After much thought, I determined Dave sings as though he's a scatting Kermit the Frog channeling Eddie Vedder. I am very proud of this revelation.
The crowd: Rabidly devoted thirtysomething suburbanites. Many of the fellas were sporting baseball caps and pastel shorts.
Overheard in the crowd: "Are you alive?," an older DMB fan to me, sensing I wasn't grooving as hard as everyone around us.