The looming threat of Hurricane Irene caused unprecedented evacuations and mass transit shutdowns in New York City, but it wasn’t enough to scare off Dave Matthews Band’s most devoted fans from hopping on boats and heading to Governors Island to take in part their leg of the band’s Caravan Tour. NYC precautions and a summer of weather-related stage collapses be damned, the show was going on.
While DMB, along with a bevy of supporting acts scheduled for the NYC Caravan stop, were slated to play for three days at the island, the impending storm put a halt to Saturday and Sunday’s shows. That meant ticket holders who were hoping to see DMB and other bands like The Roots, Gogol Bordello, Dispatch, The Head and the Heart, and Robert Randolph & the Family Band would have to hope for it to be rescheduled or use their weekend tickets to attend Friday’s show. Which, from the looks of jam-packed boats and a crowd as far as the eye, they most certainly did.
In a festival-like setting (complete with patches of mud, prime for sliding and hippie dancing in), opening bands such as Soulive, Citizen Cope, and O.A.R. split sets between two massive stages. But, by 8:20 p.m., when Dave Matthews Band hit the main stage (named “The Hudson”), the thousands of fans who opted to face-off against Mother Nature on an island that sits 800 yards from downtown Manhattan, gathered together to watch them.
Entering the stage, which was illuminated and enveloped by blue lights and faux fog (though the balmy, summer air could have just as easily caused it), DMB kicked their set off with their standard opener, the dramatic, rollicking “Don’t Drink the Water.” The singalong-friendly tune peaked in participation when Matthews infused “This Land Is Your Land” (“To the New York island”….Hey, that’s where we are!) After the song, Matthews told the crowd that he and his band members “love New York” and together we would all “ride out the storm.” Concertgoers responded with cheers and a chant of “F— Irene.”
The set moved along with the haunting “Squirm” and fan favorite “Grey Street.” The unreleased “Shotgun,” which only continues to grow and and get better on the road (here’s to hoping the band opts to put it on their next album) was followed up by a jammed-out version of the scarily aptly titled “You Might Die Trying,” considering that was a scenario for fans who traveled from out-of-town to make it to the Caravan. (“I hope it wasn’t a pain in the ass getting here,” said Matthews before beginning the song.)
“Stay or Leave,” a track from Matthews’ solo album that has become a touring mainstay with his band mates in recent years was followed by the trippy “Spaceman.” On “Spaceman,” trumpet player Rashawn Ross, whose physical size has dwindled, while his talents have done anything but, gave a spirited, stand-out solo. Ross didn’t get to soak in the spotlight long, however, as his stage left partner, Jeff Coffin, played two saxophones at the same time for “Jimi Thing” (Kudos to the Coffin look-a-like in crowd who played along and got on the big screen. You rocked.)
“Jimi” (which ended with a few choice verses from Prince’s “Sexy MF”) helped shift the show, which until that point felt surprisingly standard and somewhat subdued considering the mood of the crowd was “Screw this weather, we’re here to rock,” to a new gear. The mood stayed that way when DMB classic “Too Much” made way for the danceable “Shake Me Like a Monkey.” The rest of the set effortlessly flowed with a Matthews piano solo (“Lying in the Hands of God”), fan favorites (“Crush,” “Granny,” “Funny the Way It Is”), newbies (the Peter Gabriel-esque “Black Jack”), and covers (Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times,” a true high point of the show, and the expected “All Along the Watchtower”, which closed out the set.)
The hurricane may not have been in the area yet for Friday night’s show, but its presence was felt throughout. From the disappointment that the long-anticipated weekend was going to be cut short (Matthews, however, promised fans “We’ll make it up to you” and they’d try and get all the bands from the Caravan back on board for a possible rescheduled show) to the muggy air, Irene was definitely making herself known with New York. In the spirit of the evening, the front man kicked off the encore with a mood-setting cover of Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane.”
Matthews’ band mates re-joined him for the rest of the encore, which wrapped with the energetic, climatic “Time Bomb” and the endlessly enjoyable “Two Step.” While the show didn’t really have the opportunity to stand out among other set lists and stage energy from the Caravan Tour shows that had a chance to have a variety of material (Atlantic City’s shows were arguably the most memorable and unpredictable) the band did everything in their power to try and make the most of their shortened stint. From Matthews’ “Dave dancing” (which most resembled a marionette last night) and sharing anecdotes (he kidded that during last week’s earthquake he, despite warnings to otherwise, “ran the f— out the house” with his children under each arm) to the efforts of his band mates (bassist Stefan Lessard’s solos during “Crush” and “Watchtower” would have blown the roof off the place, had there been one) it was a welcome refuge from these dark and stormy times.