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Festival Review: CoS at Chicago’s Dave Matthews Band Caravan 2011

on July 11, 2011, 6:25pm
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dmb chicago Festival Review: CoS at Chicagos Dave Matthews Band Caravan 2011

They promised us a view. Specifically, the Dave Matthews Band Caravan’s own website promised us that from Lakeside, “the panoramic vista of downtown Chicago across the water will provide a stunning backdrop for the festivities.” Instead, we got a panoramic view of security fencing and a grubby, toe-stubbing festival ground littered with broken bricks, shards of metal and glass, and a covering of wood chips that were apparently meant to improve conditions but instead lent the entire place a hamster-cage like feeling. It seems that this site of a former steel plant needs some further TLC before it becomes a staging ground for anything else. Add to this its far South Side location and overcrowded, under air-conditioned shuttle buses for the three-mile trek to and from the Red Line subway, and the result was a recipe for disaster.

And yet the Caravan was actually a lot of fun. Its savior? The music, naturally.

Even the side-stage acts were buzz-worthy: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Ray LaMontagne, Ben Folds, O.A.R., the Flaming Lips—the list goes on and on. And with the promise of a full Dave Matthews Band setlist every night—itself usually a $60+ ticket—the festival was a regular bargain for DMB-heads, who came out in full-force. It seemed to be no one’s first show; it was their eighth or their third or their 30th. A small boy, when queried, offered that it was his fourth show and he was hoping to hear “Time Bomb”. Though mostly drunken, deeply sunburned, and backwards-baseball-cap wearing, casual fans these were certainly not.

dmbc 393 Festival Review: CoS at Chicagos Dave Matthews Band Caravan 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

So though they were initially overheard to complain noisily about conditions, people learned from their day one mistakes and soldiered on. They replaced sandals with sturdy sneakers, wore extra sunscreen, and drank a little less on days two and three, the better to enjoy the music without passing out from heat stroke. This bill was too good to miss.

Offered here is Consequence of Sound’s snapshot of that bill. A few acts were necessarily missed (Michael Franti, why, WHY did you have to be scheduled at the exact same time as the Flaming Lips?), but overall it was a weekend jammed full of folk rock, bluesy guitars, pot smoke, and sunshine. Would we go again? To Lakeside, heck no. But to the Caravan? Sign us up.

-Megan Ritt
Deputy Editor

Friday, July 8th

Dirty Dozen Brass Band- Slip Stage- 4:00 p.m.

dmbc 301 Festival Review: CoS at Chicagos Dave Matthews Band Caravan 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

As one of the inaugural events of the weekend, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band had the unique honor of playing to a mostly-sober crowd. The seven-piece brought their straight-outta-Nawlins sound and their cool-dude attitudes, shouting, “You all ready for this here?!” before launching straight into some ferocious funk. A ripping bari sax solo was particularly impressive, booming around the basement of the low instrument’s register before soaring higher than this listener was previously aware possible. Somewhere someone lit up a joint, and the weekend was officially on.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros- South Works Stage- 4:30 p.m.

dmbc 302 Festival Review: CoS at Chicagos Dave Matthews Band Caravan 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

Edward Sharpe (aka Alex Ebert) took the stage to swooning wails from ladies in the audience. Dressed in a wife beater and a snazzy hat, Ebert smiled at the attention and waved, granting the audience’s screamed-aloud wish for “Jangling” as the opener. The band’s throaty, joyful folk rock filled the air, with folks streaming over from other stages to listen. Despite all the attention, the band was pretty low-key; Ebert announced that this was their last stop on a two-year album tour, and now “We’re gonna make some new stuff!” (First, it seems, they may need a nap). Always talented, though, even in repose, they blasted through cacophonous piano falls, tambourine beats, screaming vocals, like some wild band of art kids locked in the school gym with only instruments for entertainment. “40 Day Dream” drew a massive roar from the crowd, as did a “remix” of “Home”—“It’s not a remix, we just fucked it up.”

Ray LaMontagne- South Works Stage- 6:00 p.m.

dmbc 306 Festival Review: CoS at Chicagos Dave Matthews Band Caravan 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

Did the crowd know what to expect from Ray LaMontagne? It’s hard to say. But when his wispy, scratchy voice came bellowing out over his acoustic guitar, the stoners and the meatheads stopped to take notice. Dressed in lumberjack plaid and starting on stage with just himself and a bass player, Montagne sang with the kind of quiet passion that stops traffic. He was joined onstage by a full band after his first number, but the focus remained on him: the dark, nuanced rasp of his voice; long, technical guitar jams in between verses; his face contorting with his efforts. Particularly arresting were “Repo Man”, with its crunchy guitar-and-cymbals beat, and “Devil’s in the Jukebox”, alive with country twang. Many tough-looking dudes were heard to declare LaMontagne’s set as “the best of the day” post-concert.

O.A.R.- Lakeside Stage- 7:00 p.m.

dmbc 307 Festival Review: CoS at Chicagos Dave Matthews Band Caravan 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

By now, the well-sunburned crowd was thoroughly drunk, the falling-down-and-also-vomiting kind of drunk. This turned out to be the perfect setting for an O.A.R. set. They launched directly into “Crazy Game of Poker” and had the whole crowd singing along and raising their beers to the stage. A trumpet player and a trombone guy did some skillful solos, and the beachy, calypso stylings of the guitar and drums were the perfect soundtrack to summer. Did the crowd notice the band’s musical prowess? Survey says likely not. But who doesn’t like singing along to “Night Shift”?

Dave Matthews Band- South Works Stage- 8:05 p.m.

dmbc 317 Festival Review: CoS at Chicagos Dave Matthews Band Caravan 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

It was more like 8:20 p.m. before Dave Matthews Band (DMB) got started, one of the only delays of the long day, but the wait turned out to be worthwhile. Dave Matthews himself walked alone with his guitar onto the stage before the screaming masses, the band filling in quietly behind him, and nailed a surprisingly epic opener with “Squirm”.  Most bands have to build up to that kind of power; DMB brought it onstage with them, rolled it on as easily as their sound equipment. Their sound and their lightshow filled the stage from floor to vaulted fabric roof, shooting beams and beats out into the mercifully darkened fest grounds. Anybody who wants to say that DMB was over 10 years ago needs to see them fill a whole damn park with sound before they continue that argument.

DMB staged their typical seven-piece line-up and played songs everyone was familiar with. For many fans, this was the third, the fifth, the dozenth show, and yet the whole thing felt fresh and vital. “Big-Eyed Fish” tore down the house, with plenty of fans screaming out the lyrics. Matthews, ever the consummate performer, acknowledged this with a barely-lifted eye, a mischievous grin towards the crowd, even as his face twisted and mouth stretched with the effort of hitting the notes. If ever a man gave 110% at a show, it was Matthews.

dmbc 318 Festival Review: CoS at Chicagos Dave Matthews Band Caravan 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

The setlist this first night included “Don’t Drink the Water” and a steamy version of “Rapunzel” that started Matthews on his deep-performance rocking dance. Bassist Stefan Lessard smiled, looking no longer like a kid but a seasoned member of the band. Jeff Coffin, filling LeRoi Moore’s large shoes on sax duties, hit a wailing soprano sax solo that established him as a worthy second act. “What Would You Say”, “Tripping Billies”, and a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times” rounded out a set so passionate that one was inclined to warn Matthews to save some for tomorrow (and the next day).

Saturday, July 9th

Liz Phair- South Works Stage- 4:45 p.m.

dmbc 325 Festival Review: CoS at Chicagos Dave Matthews Band Caravan 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

Representing the ladies on Day 2 of the fest was Liz Phair. She took the stage in a short black dress, leaving her blonde hair to stand out as it flowed in the lake breeze. This turned out to be the best thing about a set that suffered from bad sound mixing and low energy. Phair’s vocals could barely be heard over the drum set, and she couldn’t work up the enthusiasm to even “yeah” convincingly during her own song. After a few minutes, most of the audience turned their attention to procuring dinner.

G. Love and Special Sauce- Lakeside Stage- 5:30 p.m.

dmbc 330 Festival Review: CoS at Chicagos Dave Matthews Band Caravan 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

G. Love, aka Garrett Dutton, came on stage wearing a harmonica in a holder around his neck and carrying an acoustic guitar. “This is a song about coffee—you all like coffee? Me too—whaaat!” he cried, reeling into “Milk and Sugar”. G. Love’s music is a mix of hip hop and blues-flavored, knee-slapping good times, which sat just fine with the audience. In a backwards ball cap and sunglasses, Dutton could’ve been mistaken for a festival-goer himself, except that he deftly played his harmonica and guitar at the same time while a guy on the upright bass got funky behind him. G. Love’s set also included a rollicking cover of Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover”, which inspired a haphazard, drunken sing-along from the crowd. He might look like a bro, but Dutton plays the hell out of his guitar.

Ben Folds- South Works Stage- 6:00 p.m.

dmbc 333 Festival Review: CoS at Chicagos Dave Matthews Band Caravan 2011Ben Folds started his set with the super-topical “Levi Johnston’s Blues”, which rang home all the more for its opening lyric: “Woke up this morning/ what do I see/ 3000 cameras pointing at me.” Folds crouched over the piano, beating maniacally at the keys (and a fabulous camera angle showed the key depressions on the projector screen, which was awesome). Levi Johnston’s big moment may have passed, but Folds didn’t care what we thought about that—or anything else, it seems. In a black t-shirt and hipster glasses, he was a larger than life nerd posterboy, proud to be up there doing his thing, and the crowd loved it.

Promising a cover song—“whatever is the #1 cover song on iTunes”—the band did Ke$ha’s “Sleazy” to a first disbelieving and then grooving crowd. The keyboard player intoned “get sleazy” in a voice so low and so regular that it sounded like a pre-recorded sample, with Folds singing the verses higher above the beat. Even the sign language interpreter got down to that. Folds played a long and varied set, including “Annie Waits”, “Still Fighting It”, and “Saskia Hamilton”, the latter of which was drop-dead gorgeous live, complete with manic pianos and a crowd sing-along.

Kid Cudi- Lakeside Stage- 7:00 p.m.

dmbc 338 Festival Review: CoS at Chicagos Dave Matthews Band Caravan 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

One of the most anticipated sets of the weekend—and one of the only non-jam, non-folksy acts on the bill—Kid Cudi had amassed a crush of people before he even took the stage. By the time he emerged, dressed in a bedazzled jean jacket, to a pounding, epic bass reverb, things had reached a fever pitch. “Are you ready for the revolution?” he shouted, launching into “REVOFEV”. His work seemed on the surface to be incongruous with the style of the weekend, but Cudi raps at the speed of jam, meaning all the crowd had to do was sway along to the beats and holler when he said something provocative. “Soundtrack 2 My Life” was met with a roar, the sick bass throbbing in everyone’s ears and Cudi’s voice coming warm and easy like a summer beer. He waved his hands and egged them on: “This is epic—this is a sea of people! And you’re here to see me!” Playing a cross-section of his catalogue, Cudi kept things rolling with a simple imperative: “We’re here to party—keep that in mind.”

Dave Matthews Band- South Works Stage- 8:05 p.m.

dmbc 348 Festival Review: CoS at Chicagos Dave Matthews Band Caravan 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

On the second night of their three-show residency, Dave Matthews Band took things back a bit. Whereas the first set hit a lot of newer material, the second was a feel-good, fan favorite set that struck just the right note amongst the legions of sun-roasted and drunken audience members. Saturday’s crowd swelled to apparently peak capacity, and DMB kept things appropriately cool and friendly. They started their set with classic “#41”, which featured long solo sections by Boyd Tinsley and Tim Reynolds that eventually grounded down into near-silence. “This is a whole lot of lovemaking!” Matthews mumbled cheerfully. Lest they lose momentum, they picked up the pace next with hard-driving guitars and pounding bass on “Seven”, and then blew the doors off with a cover of Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House”, featuring a deeply funky guitar line and Rashawn Ross helping with vocal duties.

Things got sentimental with “Why I Am”, a tribute to late sax man LeRoi Moore, which featured Jeff Coffin switching from soprano to tenor sax mid-song, as Moore was famous for doing often. Reynolds’ guitar solo on the same song was so spirited and powerful that women screamed. A delicate rendition of “Proudest Monkey” was followed by perennial favorite “Satellite”, colored by the contrast of tinkling, swirling chimes and a deep, booming bass beat.

dmbc 351 Festival Review: CoS at Chicagos Dave Matthews Band Caravan 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

There were many other songs and many other moments, but the best of the night was “Crush”. Tinsley and Matthews danced together, soloing face to face as they are wont to do in the heat of the moment, encapsulated in their own little world together in front of thousands of people. The crowd sang together, not screaming as they had on many other tracks, but singing sweetly along, all the lyrics clean and clear in unison, arms stretched overhead, reaching and smiling, Matthews surfacing enough to give his winking half-smile, the lights reflecting up into the stars overhead.

Sunday, June 10th

The Wailers- South Works Stage- 2:00 p.m.

dmbc 358 Festival Review: CoS at Chicagos Dave Matthews Band Caravan 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

The hottest day of the festival had to kick off with something breezy, so it was fitting that most early attendees started their day with the Wailers. The band slipped into their bass-heavy jams just as the wind picked up, creating an instant beach sensation. The crowd grooved in place to a set that picked up significant momentum when the sound was finally adjusted properly (well into their second song). Jamming through well-worn hits such as “Is This Love” and “Three Little Birds”, the Wailers started Sunday off right.

Emmylou Harris- Slip Stage- 3:00 p.m.

dmbc 360 Festival Review: CoS at Chicagos Dave Matthews Band Caravan 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

Fans who braved the heat to see classic country-folk singer Emmylou Harris were treated to an Easter egg appearance by Dave Matthews himself, who introduced Harris as “one of my personal heroes” and hugged her before watching the rest of her set from backstage with members of his family. After such an introduction, a lesser songwriter might’ve been intimidated, but Harris possesses a self-assuredness that captivated the sweat-soaked audience. Her throaty alto swooped steadily through “Six White Cadillacs”, “Orphan Girl”, and “Hello Stranger” while she strummed away on her guitar, her backing band capably changing instruments to fit her arrangements. The audience came away just as charmed with Harris as Matthews was.

Mariachi El Bronx- Lakeside Stage- 4:15 p.m.

dmbc 365 Festival Review: CoS at Chicagos Dave Matthews Band Caravan 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

Taking the stage between set pieces for the upcoming Flaming Lips show, Mariachi El Bronx nonetheless managed to keep the crowd’s attention. The seven-piece came out resplendent in matching black mariachi costumes (“You think you motherfuckers are hot?” bellowed the punk-rocker look-alike lead singer). But the heat of the day finally broke as the band started burning through their zippy setlist, including “Revolution Girls” and “Cell Mates”. Their south-of-the-border flavored songs featured plenty of trumpet inter-played with violin and laid over rock guitars to create instant party ambiance.

David Gray- South Works Stage- 4:45 p.m.

dmbc 369 Festival Review: CoS at Chicagos Dave Matthews Band Caravan 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

David Gray drew quite a crowd. Any debate over whether it was just the ladies who wanted to see him was quickly squelched by the sheer size of the throng surrounding the South Works stage. Gray was dressed in a classy collared shirt and jacket with dark glasses, and if he was hot, he didn’t show it. He played a full hour set that was grounded with his hit songs; there was “Fugitive” and “Sail Away” and, of course, “Babylon”. On the latter, Gray got particularly passionate, holding the long notes and throwing his head back to fully release his captivating, instantly recognizable voice. The crowd sang along serenely, and Gray let his guard down for a charming moment to conduct the audience sing-along.

The Flaming Lips- Lakeside Stage- 5:45 p.m.

dmbc 371 Festival Review: CoS at Chicagos Dave Matthews Band Caravan 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

How does one explain what happened on the Lakeside stage once the Flaming Lips were in charge? Should we start with the pre-performance instructions from Wayne Coyne, requesting that everyone smush together in preparation for the ball? Or his declaration that, in addition to the anticipated performance of Pink Floyd’s legendary Dark Side of the Moon, the Lips would also include some Wizard of Oz music because “we know everybody here smokes a lot of fucking pot—we want you to! It’s a great way to spend two weeks of your life.”

dmbc 374 Festival Review: CoS at Chicagos Dave Matthews Band Caravan 2011Perhaps we should start with the strobe lights flashing at the same frequency on the guitar in the opening salvos of Dark Side, as Coyne rolled out over the audience in his famous ball, as ersatz Dorothies let dozens of giant balloons loose in the air, as rainbow-colored confetti and streamers shot from cannons on either side of the stage and fell around our incredulous heads, blanketing the ground in a sea of paper glory. Or Coyne shouting the words to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” into a megaphone that simultaneously blasted pink smoke above him like the physical representation of his sound. Or maybe the eerie accuracy of Coyne, the wizard himself, sneaking in choruses of “because of the wonderful things he does!” in between twisting, grooving sections of Floyd’s music, blending and grinding the two together until it all became a glorious mélange of color and sound.

And if I told you that a rainbow appeared behind the Ferris wheel just as Coyne and co. wrapped things up, would you even believe me? It was just that kind of set.

Dave Matthews Band- South Works Stage- 7:05 p.m.

dmbc 388 Festival Review: CoS at Chicagos Dave Matthews Band Caravan 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

Dave Matthews Band got a late start on this late night of their three-day stand; the crowd had enough time to organize a few rounds of the wave in the meantime. Much like Friday, Matthews kicked things off solo, with band members entering one at a time until the full group took the crowd through a long rendition of “One Sweet World”. Matthews, clearly loving the experience, added little beatbox-style interludes here and there, much to the crowd’s great delight.

Fat sax beats lead into a dirge-like rendition of “Bartender”, which curled darkly in the fading daylight. Matthews’ voice turned to a snarl on the last verse, which evolved into a vocal jam as the song went forward. Beautiful open high notes, sounds without meaning, escaped his mouth as Matthews closed his eyes and turned his face towards heaven, crying out.

dmbc 386 Festival Review: CoS at Chicagos Dave Matthews Band Caravan 2011

Photo by Meghan Brosnan

DMB played more of their classic tracks on the third night, including the sexy “Say Goodbye”, a jam-heavy version of “Best of What’s Around”, “Warehouse”, “Seek Up”, “When the World Ends”, “Gravedigger”, and much, much more. Nearly every band member took at least one extended solo section as the night wore darker. They even included a dance-inducing cover of Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” that rocked surprisingly hard.

Finally, though, as the old saying goes, “all good things must come to an end,” and so it was that the Caravan finally ran out of time. With plenty tired, some hungover, and most unhappily contemplating a return to work and real life come the next morning, the crowd loaded onto the shuttle buses for one final trek back to their homes (or hotels), leaving the ringing of guitars and the sweet, newly packaged memories of a weekend well spent echoing in their ears and thoughts, respectively.

Photography by Meghan Brosnan.

The Culture of DMB Caravan

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