It's a safe bet most folks at the Wells Fargo Center for Saturday's sold-out Dave Matthews Band gig always knew what they would get. All the veteran Virginian septet's live selections - 20 songs over three hours - were largely unedited, played at full strength and length.
That was just fine by the satisfied crowd, which stood to sing along with the amiable namesake frontman through anthemic regular set-closer "Ants Marching." After all, those who want more concise interpretations can stick to DMB studio albums. (In concert or recorded, Matthews & Co. remain phenomenally popular; their September release, their eighth studio album, Away From the World, became their sixth consecutive disc to debut at No. 1.)
What separates the combo from other long-winded "jam" bands, however, is its ability to keep things fresh with a revolving spotlight on individual virtuosos. Boyd Tinsley's skillful violin lines - from feel-good Appalachian fiddling to sonorous jazz-rock romps - may hold forth on one number, but it's tasteful lead guitarist Tim Reynolds' turn on the next. For this final night of the tour, Joe Lawlor of the road crew was even welcomed onstage to match sizzling guitar leads on a blowout of "Corn Bread" (longest version yet), working in choice licks lifted from the '70s solo heyday of British ax ace Jeff Beck.
Still, singer and acoustic guitarist Matthews' measured encore-set read of "Christmas Song," an original going back to the 1993 indie release Remember Two Things, showed how effective a sparser track could be in breaking up the instrumental onslaught. His gentle phrasing in alternating its recurring lines "Love, love, love" and "Blood of our children / All around" achieved timely resonance.
Matthews earned his first accolades earlier when he introduced Denver openers the Lumineers. With singer-guitarist Wesley Schultz often flanked by co-founding percussionist-vocalist Jeremiah Fraites and cellist-singer Neyla Pekarek, the appealing Jersey-rooted folk-rockers turned in an uncluttered 10 songs in 40 minutes, validating their recent best new artist and best Americana album Grammy nominations. (They're back at the Tower in February and are on Saturday Night Live Jan. 19.)