Dave Matthews Band didn't arrive via a caravan this time around, instead 9 buses and 13 semi trucks carried the band and crew to The United Center for the Chicago stop of their winter arena tour.  Supporting their newly released Away From The World  (RCA), DMB did not disappoint their sold out crowd full of fans new and old.

Beginning the night and warming up the crowd, was 64-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame reggae legend Jimmy Cliff.  Cliff performed an energetic 10 song set which included “The Harder They Come” and his famed cover of the Jimmy Nash song “I Can See Clearly Now” from the movie "Cool Runnings."  He was exciting to watch as he ran in place alongside his band while performing each song.  When he started, the arena was only ten percent full of mostly young people who didn't realize they were witnessing the performance of a legend.  It was clear that DMB is inspired and respects the work of the timeless Jimmy Cliff as several members of DMB could even be seen watching Cliffs performance from in the darkness on the side of the stage.

As I walked the halls of the United Center during the change over between Cliff and DMB, there was a clear sense of nostalgia in the air.  Many fans could be heard asking each other how many DMB shows they had been to.  I was intrigued to find out many fans in attendance have been to 10 or more DMB concerts over the years at many different venues around Chicago (including Alpine Valley).  At 8:25pm Dave Matthews Band took the stage.  Dave was supported by his band which included Carter Beauford, Stefan Lessard, Boyd Tinsley, Jeff Coffic, Rashawn Ross, and Tim Reynolds.  They appeared energized and ready to rock Chicago.  It was very apparent from the start, that each member of the band was having a blast performing with each other for the sold out crowd, which by the end of the first song had filled in the arena to capacity.

DMB’s set opened up with “You Might Die Trying,” “Spaceman,” and “Cornbread,” with all three songs featuring and showcasing the band’s energetic horn section.  This led into a 10 minute jam of “Drunken Soldier” presenting the crowd with the first chance to see each member of DMB loosen up and improvise.

Two special things about a DMB live show is the change in dynamics and lack of down time during the band's ever changing setlist in between songs.   It is literally a three hour long roller coaster of emotions. During “Gravedigger” we literally watched as Dave Matthews reached deep into his soul and pulled out every emotion he could muster.  The crowd sang along as Matthews grew the dynamics of the song word by word, note by note.  The momentum grew even larger during “Grey Street,” which featured many soulful improvisations from each member on the stage.

“Mercy” which showcases the softer side of the band is exactly what fans have come to expect from a DMB ballad.  Next, Dave took to the piano for a full band, piano driven, improvised song.  It was fun to watch as the group worked together to craft the songs sound which seemed as if it could have been a timeless classic.

Several times during the evening I did notice the reworking of some song arrangements specific to this tour.  One in particular that caught my attention was “Everyday” which has been reworked to include some Cajun spice and flavor.

The next section of the setlist included several of the band’s popular hits including the feel good sing-a-long “What Would You Say,” and the jazz infused jam “Crush.”

If you attended the show hoping for a greatest hits concert you would have left the show with some songs still left to be desired. I do feel that fans, although they appreciated the eclectic nature of the changing setlist, which included a balance of older classics, deep cuts, and new songs off the bands recent release, would have still liked to hear some some additional well known DMB classics such as Crash Into Me,” and The Space Between,” which were absent from the setlist.

There were however, several other classics in the conclusion of the setlist including fan favorites “You and Me” and “Ants Marching,” which were both extended to include a large body of improvisation from each member of the band including Dave.   These songs were well received throughout the arena.

The band left the stage to an enormous roar from the audience and returned after the stage was reset for an encore which included “Christmas Song,” “Belly, Belly, Nice,”  and a cover of the Bob Dylan classic “All Along The Watchtower.”

It was a fantastic performance by a band that have definitely secured their place amongst great rock 'n' roll bands that have come before them.  One thing is clear when you attend a Dave Matthews Band concert you never know what songs will be on the setlist, but you are bound to have a good time.

Dave Matthews Band Setlist
United Center, Chicago, IL, USA
December 5th 2012

You Might Die Trying
Spaceman
Cornbread
Drunken Soldier
Gravedigger
Grey Street
Mercy
Piano improv
Out of My Hands
Rooftop
Everyday
Snow Outside
What Would You Say
Crush
The Riff
You and Me
Shake Me Like a Monkey
Ants Marching

Encore:

Christmas Song
Belly Belly Nice
All Along the Watchtower