- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 6, 2002

The Dave Matthews Band kicked off its spring tour before a sold-out crowd at the MCI Center Thursday night with an eclectic two-hour set that eschewed hits in favor of new and rarer material.

Just two songs from last year's "Everyday" made the cut, and they were the obligatory singles "I Did It" and "The Space Between." That album, the band's fourth original release for a major label, for which it ditched longtime producer Steve Lillywhite for Glen Ballard, received mixed reviews from fans.

Thursday night's concert showcased songs from the so-called Lillywhite sessions, an album's worth of material recorded last year that Mr. Matthews and company scrapped in favor of "Everyday." The rough songs somehow made their way online, becoming instant hits with hard-core fans.

Five of those songs were played at MCI Center and elicited cheers of recognition from the mostly college-age crowd and even some singalongs on the choruses.

The band started things off with "Too Much," a lively song from its second proper album, "Crash." That put Mr. Matthews front and center onstage, dancing exuberantly. Once a rather shy performer, he seems to have become far more confident and playful in his star status.

The first extended solo came on the second song, "What Would You Say," the single that launched the band to fame in 1994. LeRoi Moore, who plays soprano, alto, tenor and baritone sax, got a chance to show off his tremendous improv skills.

The funky turn the band took on "Everyday" also can be found in some of the Lillywhite material, especially "Busted Stuff," which shows off Mr. Matthews' falsetto scatting before the instruments drop down to a standstill.

Although Mr. Matthews clearly is the star, the rhythm section of bassist Stefan Lessard and drummer Carter Beauford deserves credit for being tight enough to allow solo work to flourish. The jams were reined in far more than at previous shows, but experimentation still was in evidence, especially from violinist Boyd Tinsley.

The traditional five-piece group was joined by previous collaborator Butch Taylor on keyboards. He was truly noticeable only on the two songs from "Everyday."

The one new song from the night, "Where Are You Going," featured a simple acoustic riff and some light piano work, but the unfortunate line "I am no Superman" recalled Five for Fighting's man-of-steel-themed single.

Other Lillywhite tunes included "Big Fish," a mellow song that winds down in guitar psychedelia by the end and features Mr. Moore on a flute; "Bartender," which uses a similar chord progression as "Crash Into Me"; and "Grace Is Gone," a tune that recalls "Say Goodbye" with its relaxed soprano sax solo.

The surprise of the night came in the final songs (and two encore numbers), all taken from 1998's "Before These Crowded Streets," the group's third proper studio album. These songs haven't been played much in the past few years, especially "Pig," which, according to fan sites, last surfaced in 1999.

The crowd remained boisterous throughout, standing through the entire show, dancing in place and joining in on most choruses.

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