In some ways, two and a half hours of acoustic Dave Matthews with Tim Reynolds seems like it would be a snore -- especially since a boatload of these 27 songs range between five and nine minutes! The Dave Matthews Band can get away with such excesses as a group, but in this intimate setting on such a large stage? It's either truly wonderful or something of an exercise in intense ego run riot, right? To be fair, this is not a snore. Reynolds is a hell of a guitarist. He is not one given to random excess and never pretends to be a guitar hero -- though he is. The program is simply that this pair brings out Matthews' tunes from both the DMB and his solo recording and plays them for an audience full of adoration and gratitude. And, for the most part, it works. The opening blues moans that introduce "Bartender" let the listener know that this is no ordinary acoustic show. Renditions of "Crush," "Gravedigger," "Some Devil," and "Crash into Me" are gorgeously done here. There is a conviction in Matthews' voice that is missing on a lot of the band's live records. Likewise, "Grace Is Gone" and the cover versions like Neil Young's "Down by the River," Daniel Lanois' "The Maker," and Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" are also wonderfully done. There is also a new song called "Sister" that Matthews overly explains, but the song's terrific.
There are a few dull moments, but over the entire course of this set they are actually few and far between -- unless Matthews' voice gets to you after a while, and then perhaps you're in trouble. When Matthews is lazy (and he often is), the results can be samey sounding -- but he's not here. He understands implicitly that his singing is more important than it is with the DMB, and it needs to carry the weight. Reynolds adds so much in terms of color and texture -- whether he's playing straight, using effects, playing slide, or inventing some new scale to play a solo in, he transforms what might be merely intimate and engaging into something (mostly) compelling. Even the nine-plus-minute "Dancing Nancies" works like a charm because Reynolds is able to create an alternate voice with his lead guitar playing. His solo on Young's "Down by the River" actually mimics (on acoustic guitar) the songwriter's, by going into a somewhat extended single-note hammer until it becomes trancelike -- he could just as easily have shown off. For Matthews fans, this is essential. For those on the fence about Matthews, this is document enough to win you over to his talent as a songwriter -- without spending the fruitless time that DMB recordings take up. For those who liked Some Devil, his solo effort, this document will provide further enjoyment. It's as solid as an extended presentation can be and is, for the most part, thoroughly enjoyable. The great contribution it does provide is to demonstrate what a guitar-picking wonder Reynolds is, even more so than on earlier collaborations between these two. Somebody should sign this guy up, and quick.