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Concert Review

DMB, fans energize Fenway Park

Dave Matthews performed to a sold-out crowd at Fenway Park last night. Dave Matthews performed to a sold-out crowd at Fenway Park last night. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By James Reed
Globe Staff / May 30, 2009
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It looked like your typical Friday night at Fenway Park. Lansdowne was clogged with people in Sox attire, throwing back Sam Adams wherever they served them. Scalpers wanted to know who needed tickets, and the usual chants of "Let's go Red Sox!" rippled outside the ballpark.

Inside Fenway, though, the merch tables peddled jerseys with names other than Pedroia and Wakefield. They read "DMB" and "MOORE 41," proud salutes to the night's entertainment: Dave Matthews Band and LeRoi Moore, the band's saxophonist who died in August.

The sold-out show, which repeats tonight, bore all the electricity and fervor of an extra-inning ballgame. (Well, except with more clouds of pot smoke in the outfield.) Matthews has played Fenway before, and it's a fitting venue for his fan base, whose devotion certainly rivals that of Red Sox Nation.

The band's music, too, exudes a vibrancy best experienced in stadium-size portions. Nearly three hours long, the concert was consistently - almost relentlessly - satisfying because the band was unerringly in synch with the songs and the audience's contagious energy.

The bad rap on Matthews, at least outside his legion of fans, is that he and his crew are a jam band, a polite euphemism for aimless noodling. That wasn't the case at Fenway. The band stretched out on long solos, but they were structured and engrossing. (OK, so maybe "The Dreaming Tree" was a bit noodle-y, but extended flute interludes tend to have that effect.)

The group bears Matthews's name, but really, each member is a star, from violinist Boyd Tinsley killing it on "Ants Marching" to Jeff Coffin turning his saxophone into a machine on "Jimi Thing." Drummer Carter Beauford, forever smiling, anchored the set, with Tim Reynolds taking the occasional lead on guitar shredding.

Meanwhile, Matthews was a humble host, barely concealing a sheepish grin as the show opened with "Funny the Way It Is," from the band's new album, "Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King." During the Southern-fried "Cornbread," Matthews unleashed some tortured yet endearing duck-walk dance moves.

Willie Nelson was in a stark mindset for his opening slot. With his five-piece backing band close at hand, he played to a scattershot audience of maybe an eighth of the crowd. The set, while heartfelt, was strangely quiet, so much so that the tender nuances of "Always on My Mind" went straight into the dugout. Then again, never underestimate the power of a shopworn classic like "On the Road Again" to send a stadium audience into sing-along mode.

James Reed can be reached at jreed@globe.com.

DAVE MATTHEWS BAND With Willie Nelson

At: Fenway Park, last night (repeats tonight)

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