At 1st Mariner Arena, Dave Matthews Band reaches back to early songs

The Dave Matthews Band played a nearly three-hour show, full of crowd-pleasers from early albums.
The Dave Matthews Band played a nearly three-hour show, full of crowd-pleasers from early albums.(Grace Hochheimer, For The Baltimore Sun)

Here in Baltimore for the first time in the better part of two decades on what's ostensibly a promotional tour for their latest release, "Away From the World," the Dave Matthews Band played a set sprinkled with only a handful of obligatory tracks from the album last night at 1st Mariner Arena.

The rest of the nearly three-hour concert was a reach into the band's early discography that left the crowd cheering till it was hoarse.

Matthews came out before the show to introduce The Lumineers ("not that they need it," he remarked), who kicked things off with a solid set of their brand of "stomp-and-clap," Mumford & Sons-y folk rock that had many on the floor singing and dancing along.

"It's been a while since we've been here in Baltimore," Matthews said, upon returning with band in tow.

Indeed, it had been. DMB's only prior Baltimore stop was nearly two decades ago at Hammerjack's before its close in 1997. The band has played Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia twice since, in 1994 and 2004. But after rising to widespread critical acclaim, the group has opted for higher-capacity venues in nearby Virginia and Washington, D.C.

The band's first show back in town didn't disappoint.

Matthews and company started with the bass-laden jam "Seek Up," from the independently released 1993 record, "Remember Two Things," and crescendoed from there.

By the end, Matthews was dancing and singing covered in sweat, fiddle player Boyd Tinsley was soloing with a wa-wa effect more commonly used with an electric guitar and saxophonist Jeff Coffin was playing two saxophones at the same time.

Several new tracks from "Away From the World" were slipped in here and there throughout the show, but didn't feel out of place or distract from the slew of classics the band served up.

"Broken Things," the album's first song, was also the first new track the band played (it came three songs into the set). It accompanied "Rooftop," "If Only," "Drunken Soldier" and "Belly Belly Nice," as well as the band's most recent single, "Mercy," and the radio 2009 radio hit "You and Me. " Both had the crowd singing along.

But the clear highlights of the show came in the form of the band's older tracks, which had fans on their feet.

"The Best of What's Around," from 1994's "Under the Table and Dreaming" elicited cheers from the crowd. "Grey Street" saw Matthews shuffling across the stage in his somewhat weird custom. The arena echoed with choruses of "Honey, Honey" as soon as Matthews started playing "Everyday."

The driving, angry anthem "Don't Drink the Water" packed a high-energy punch matched only by "Rapunzel" (after which Matthews made a point of recognize virtuoso drummer Carter Beaford, who wore a Richmond Spiders football jersey).

Fan-favorite "Jimi Thing" ended the set, with the band sang a line reminiscent of a Sir Mix-A-Lot song -- "shakin' that ass, shakin' that ass" -- during the outro, where they've previously covered Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth."

Matthews, Beauford and lead guitarist Tim Reynolds came back out for an encore, and played the seasonally appropriate "Christmas Song" before the rest of the band rejoined them onstage.

After they brought the tempo back up with "Shake Me Like a Monkey," the band subsided for bassist Stefan Lessard's eerie rendition of the national anthem (of course, with an "O!" yell from the crowd).

Then, they closed out with their version of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," with a fiddle solo that had 1st Mariner bursting at the seams.

It might have been 16 years since DMB was here -- and it might be 16 more until the band returns. But last night's show was worth the wait.

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