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Dave Matthews Band Caravan Sun Jul 10 2011
The weather has been good, the music has been great and the mango Starfruit with blueberries has been a revelation. But after two days at the Dave Matthews Band Caravan, it's clear Chicago has major work to do if it's going to host more massive events at the former site of the U.S. Steel South Works.
One problem is the fairgrounds themselves: a dusty dirt field, half-covered in mulch and scrub brush, strewn with rocks, tree roots and stumps and lingering bits of steel wire. It's potentially dangerous and inescapably filthy, especially with no running water available to clean yourself up. But this is the inaugural event, and that all can be fixed for next time with a little effort.
No, the major problem is getting to and from the site. It's not the raw number of concertgoers; we handle 30,000 or 40,000 people all the time without much fuss. It's the massive difficulty the Chicago Transit Authority has had getting to the show whatever large percentage of the crowd is using public transportation.
Whether their arrivals are staggered throughout the afternoon or they're leaving en masse at the end of the night, fans at the DMB Caravan have seen huge wait times both on the Red Line and the inexplicably-not-free shuttle buses running loops from the 87th Street station to the festival grounds. It's tens of thousands of people pinned in by the lake with only one escape route.
Friday was tolerable if frustrating, but Saturday I stood in line for two hours after the show to even get on a shuttle bus, only to have it spontaneously abandon the planned Red Line stop and head downtown on the Dan Ryan.
That improvisation actually worked out for me, because I was loathe to try the CTA trains again after Friday night, but plenty of my fellow passengers, locals and visitors alike, were completely confused by the abrupt, unexplained change of plans. But at least the chaos fostered a can't-help-but-laugh esprit de corps in the back of the bus.
At one point, as we rolled down State Street, turning and stopping at random, I wondered aloud if it might be OK to push open a window and shoot a pedestrian. We were in a world without law, and the usual rules seemed no longer to apply.
I was advised against shooting anyone at such a late hour, which was just as well. It would have been a shame to let our madcap ride home spoil such a nice day.
But maybe you'd like to hear about the actual music that happened Saturday in between my difficult commutes. Stephanie will have more on Ben Folds, Liz Phair and the irrepressible, wildly popular Kid Cudi. I took the noodlers and jammers.
There was less noodling and jamming than you might expect from the acoustic guitar duo of Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds, the latter re-installed in recent years as the virtuoso guitarist-in-residence at the former's namesake band. Dave handles the vocals, the rhythm and the crowd interaction; the reclusive Tim contributed blistering work on DMB favorites ("Grace is Gone," "Dancing Nancies," the rarity "Blue Water Baboon Farm") and his own instrumental compositions. It's the acoustic sound fans of the full band fell in love with years ago, minus the fiddle. Executed well, if perhaps with few surprises for fans of the 15-year-old "Live at Luther College" and other Dave & Tim recordings.
G. Love & Special Sauce is one of the sillier names in popular music, but it's an effective signifier: Don't take this too seriously; come have fun. No soul-searching, tortured lyrics, just rollicking blues as filtered through a son of the hip-hop era. It was no accident G. Love played the Lakeside stage right before Kid Cudi, and he was equally well received by the bros and broettes.
The trio tore through effective covers of "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" and "Folsom Prison Blues" but really got the crowd hopping with "Booty Call," which was as puckish and juvenile as it sounds, and a sing-along cover of Biz Markie's seminal classic "Just a Friend." Because there is literally nothing white people like more than novelty rap.
But hey, you get what you came for with G. Love. Veteran showmanship and musicality -- most notably in upright bass solos(!) by Timo Shanko -- and a groove that's hard to beat in the "summertime jam" category.
The second of three headlining shows by Dave Matthews Band was of a piece with Friday's first show, aptly showcasing both a strong selection of old favorites and the more muscular songs of recent years.
They're not really the same band they were in their heyday, which seems to frustrate a portion of fans who want every show to sound like it's still 1998. But playing "Ants Marching" every night for 15 or 20 years gets old after a while, and the band has stretched out quite a bit.
The current sound of Dave Matthews Band is defined as much or more by Tim Reynolds' electric guitar as by Boyd Tinsley's violin. And with Rashawn Ross touring regularly on trumpet and Jeff Coffin replacing the late Leroi Moore on saxophone, the horn section is a far more aggressive element. Where Moore made sweet love to his horns, Coffin fucks like an especially angry bunny.
Saturday's set, for instance, opened with the laid-back, winding jam "#41" and closed with a string of big hits ("Lie in Our Graves," "Too Much," "Crash Into Me," "Grey Street," "Two Step"), but also found plenty of time for "Seven," "Alligator Pie," "Time Bomb" and other relative newcomers. Not all the new songs are winners, but most of the egregious missteps of the past decade -- and there have been several -- never surface in set lists.
They sent the crowd home happy ... at least until they got to the line for the shuttle buses.