It’s that time of year again. The temperature is at an all-time high, the tents starting popping up around the Noblesville countryside, and the masses all congregate to 12880 E 146th St for what many consider to be the most exciting two days of music in Indiana.
And now it’s time for me to experience it for the first time.
In something that has become as much a part of an Indiana summer as the Indy 500 or finding out what they’re deep frying at the State Fair, Dave Matthews Band returned to Klipsch Music Center (née Deer Creek) for the first of a two-night performance. It’s a date that many people circle on their calendars the minute it’s announced (my sister being one of them). It’s a source of great joy and celebration for the over 30,000+ that will walk through the gates during these two days, and in all the years he has been doing it, I’ve been to it all of zero times. Tonight, it’s time to see what all of the fuss is about.
But first, a disclaimer: I’m not a Dave Matthews fan. I don’t hate his music per se, it’s just not for me. Sure, I know a handful of songs, but I’ll be way out of my element as I surround myself with die-hard fans who know all of his songs forwards and backwards. So it’s because of this that I thought I’d be the right person to review this. Anyway, let’s get started. Allons-y.
We’re off to a rousing start roughly two hours from the start of the first set (Dave would be performing two sets for the evening. One acoustic, and one electric). Aside from the typical traffic jam that has me passive-aggressively live-tweeting it, a storm is moving through the area, bringing along dark clouds, scary lightning, and sheets of rain. Fun to look at, but not so fun to be in the middle of. Especially when you’re in a car. Regardless, I’m determined to get there on time. Rush hour traffic and storm clouds be damned.
My typical one-hour drive turned into about two hours, but I’m here at last in the parking lot. I hear no music, so the start time must have been pushed back. In the parking lot, many people are starting to move from their tailgating festivities (several fireworks were set off and one of the dumpsters was smoking) to the venue. There’s a lot of cheap beer and questionable substances being passed around, but hey, we’re at a concert, and that’s as normal as anything.
I finally make my way in, making a few friends along the way (that several probably won’t remember by night’s end). The lawn and the pavilion resemble a sardine can as we draw closer to showtime, yet foot traffic is moving better than most sell out shows I go to here. When I finally find my chair, the man himself, Dave Matthews, makes his way to the stage to an eruption of cheers. He apologizes for the delay and goes right into the first of two sets. Here we go…
From a musical standpoint, this is Dave at his best, with an acoustic guitar in hand and over 15,000 of his closest friends there to experience it with him. Eventually, the rest of the band joins him about midway through the first set. Outside of the big steel contraption he’s playing under with a big curtain concealing something and the fact that it’s front of thousands of people in a large venue, this is as intimate as it’s going to get. Dave’s calm and cool demeanor may clash with the zealous fans out here singing along to every word like it’s gospel, but it’s certainly a cool sight. These are the moments I love to see at shows. At one point, the singing stops completely and it’s the crowd leading the charge.
I think Dave may have jinxed things when he said it looks like it’s going to be a nice night after the storms, and then he went off on some weird banter likening the rain to someone that hides behind the curtain to jump out and scare you. That part was a little weird, but if that’s the weirdest thing that happens tonight, I’ll take it.
Eventually the set comes to an end and he announces he’ll be back in a few for set #2. It’s close to 9:00 and many around me are pleasantly intoxicated and running to the concession area for more cheap (expensive) beer. Some make their way to the various merchandise booths, while people like me take this time to move around a little and have a seat. After all, I figure as soon as this resumes, there won’t be a lot of movement in a space that already feels like a sardine can.
The curtain behind the stage lowers and reveals a giant LED video board. That coupled with their metal arches, it doesn’t look like they’ll skimp on production.
The sun has set (not that you could tell behind the dark clouds anyway), and the aroma of cheap beer and funny cigarettes is starting to get to me. Suddenly, the house lights go out. It’s time to get this party going (again).
When I said they wouldn’t skimp on production, they really didn’t. The flashing lights, the spinning LEDs, the video board. It’s a nightmare for anyone with epilepsy, but not for the fan who’s been waiting all year for this show.
If there’s another thing they really didn’t skimp on, it’s overall musicianship. In what’s as close to a jam band show I’ll ever get to, there are plenty of solos and improvisation that could fill out a typical setlist on its own, and people are going crazy over these. Only here will you see solos on guitar, trumpet, and saxophone (sometimes in the same song). Sure, the solos may have dragged on a little too long at times, but this isn’t a typical set. This is a Dave Matthews set.
As for the set, there are a few favorites scattered throughout, but I assume they’re saving a lot of those for Night 2 (although they do throw in a cover of Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” towards the end). Great if you’re already a big fan and you know every song anyway, but maybe not so much for someone like me.
Judging by the way things are going, this is a show for fans. If you were on the fence or maybe not a huge fan at the beginning, it probably won’t change your mind. Then again, the skeptics are far outnumbered by the die-hards by a pretty large margin if we’re going by who has their hands up as they dance to the beat.
Meanwhile in the crowd, people are still throwing up their arms and dancing a singing along like a Gospel choir. There’s even a fair amount of dancing in the aisles and seat jumping in the lower pavilion the later in the night it gets. Let’s just say the people standing next to me weren’t the same as those in the beginning.
It’s like heaven on earth for much of this crowd, but sadly it can’t last forever. After going through “Too Much,” they bid everyone a fond farewell before leaving everyone literally in the dark, with only dim stage lights and cell phones to light the way (no one carries Zippos anymore?). We get a brief glimmer of hope when Dave makes his way back onto the stage to shake a few hands and sign a few things for those in the front row. Then he disappears behind the curtain again leaving people cheering. My section tried (and failed) to get a chant going, while the rest scream and clap.
Eventually we do get our encore when the rest of the band makes their way back. We get two more songs and then we’re sent on our way. It’s back to reality (or tents if you’re camping out). It’s been an eventful evening for sure. Now, how can I put this into words?
As I alluded to earlier, this was a show that was sure to please the DMB faithful. There were plenty of favorites old and new scattered throughout, and all done with that Dave Matthews charm that everyone knows and loves. If you weren’t already a huge fan, this might not have done much to change your mind, but for the rest, it causes nothing but pure, unadulterated joy.
As the second show wrapped late last night, it’s back into the real world. The tents have been packed away, the people return to their real lives, and crews at KMC have already started preparing for their next big show. Fret not, though. Soon the campers will be back and the masses will congregate to Noblesville for two days in the summer.
Let the countdown begin, Indy. See you next summer.
Despite not being a huge Dave Matthews fan, you can’t deny their ability to put on an entertaining show. Musically they sound great, Dave has a likable personality, and did I mention the guitar/trumpet/saxophone solos? Plus, when you have a zealous crowd like this one, it’s going to be a good night.
As stated earlier, this was a show for the fans. If you aren’t really into DMB, then it did little to change your mind, but for what it’s worth, those who love them far outnumbered those who don’t.