Fifty years ago, British primatologist Jane Goodall arrived in what is now Tanzania to observe the behavior of chimps in the wild, discovering them to be creatures of far greater intellectual and emotional sophistication than the scientific community had believed. Twenty years ago, Dave Matthews put a band together in Charlottesville, one that became enormously popular while affirming the frat boys who formed his core audience early on are no more sophisticated than anybody thought.
Okay, so it isn’t just frat boys (current and expired) who dig Matthews’s slurry, swampy, rhythm n’ stew: Like it or not, Matthews is pop’s biggest draw of the 21st century by total tickets sold. At DAR Constitution Hall last night, Matthews marshaled his cult for good, performing a career-spanning acoustic-duo gig with frequent sidekick Tim Reynolds to benefit the Jane Goodall Institute’s conservation efforts.
Before opening the career-spanning 145-minute concert with a sober “Bartender,” Matthews walked onstage to wild cheers with his arm around the 76-year-old, still-radiant Goodall, who implored followers of “my friend David” to donate and agitate, saying we’re supposed to borrow the Earth from our children, but we’ve been stealing it instead. (She noted that Constitution Hall was the site of her first major U.S. speech, some 48 years earlier.)
That was it for eloquence or activism. Matthews reminded fans they could give money via text throughout the show, but mostly reserved his patter for repetitive jokes about his various body odors, his hairline, and so many baffling shout-outs to a particular feminine hygiene product you’d have thought its makers were sponsoring his imminent tour. When it comes to crass hilarity, you, Sir, are no John Mayer, despite the superior pliability of your guitar-face.
But you are a crowd-pleaser, and the audience, more accustomed to seeing you from farther away, greeted each song with shrieks. Matthews’s class-clown persona contrasted sharply with the intensity of the musicianship: On tunes like “Save Me” or Daniel Lanois’s magnificent “The Maker,” both performers appeared to travel somewhere otherworldly (Reynolds’s eyes actually rolled back in his head), which gave their partnership a visceral lure that rendered songcraft at least temporarily beside the point.
This review appears today on Click Track, The Washington Post’s pop music blog.