BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
(This story was originally filed on April 8, 2013)
How appropriate that about the time the Dave Matthews Band was singing ‘Rooftop’, that was about the only location from which spectators could view the band’s show in Centennial Olympic Park.
The three-day Big Dance Concert Series, held in conjunction with the NCAA Men’s Final Four championship, wrapped in major style Sunday night, as organizers blocked entrances to the park when it reached capacity during DMB’s closing set.
An Atlanta Fire Marshal representative estimated that about 40,000 people crammed in for the jam band’s nearly three-hour show, which commenced with the ominous ‘Don’t Drink the Water’ and snaked through sensual musical exercises (‘Crush’), thick funk and sassy brass (‘Belly Belly Nice’) and evergreen fan sing-alongs (‘What Would You Say’, ‘Two Step’).
DMB’s presence crowned another full day of music that began with Oregon folk-rockers Blind Pilot and included spirited appearances from Grace Potter & The Nocturnals and the ever-classy Sting.
Even though DMB performed twice in Atlanta last year, their live shows remain a perennial draw for their loyal legions. Sunday’s crowd was a combination of the longtime followers who reveled in the heavy guitar riffing of ‘Seven’ – an album track from 2009 – and casual attendees who figured they’d check out the band for free and reminisce about their college days when Matthews and Co. broke into ‘Jimi Thing’.
The bearded frontman was in usual quirky form, sidetracking with his oddly-voiced joke, ”I got people down here” several times throughout the show (he used the same line repeatedly during the band’s Gwinnett stop in December) and even throwing in a naughty homage to Prince that included the words ”sexy” and ”mother”.
But Matthews, who conveys a ton of emotion with the arch of an eyebrow, sounded robust when singing, and the band as taut as usual.
Carter Beauford’s drumming glistened during the lengthy jams that are DMB’s signature, and Matthews frequently faced off with violinist Boyd Tinsley, peppering songs such as ‘Funny the Way It Is’ and ‘Corn Bread’ with elements of jazz, pop and funk.
Meanwhile, Sting’s 75-minute set was an enticing combination of solo and Police hits – he opened with ‘If I Ever Lose My Faith in You’ and ‘Demolition Man’, stalking the stage with pursed lips as he thumped out his bass lines – and more obscure gems such as ‘Hounds of Winter’.
Even in such a mainstream setting, Sting educated the audience with challenging music provided by his own abilities and those of his band, including longtime guitarist Dominic Miller and newer addition Peter Tickell, a wonder on violin.
At 61, Sting is still able to command the big notes on ‘Message in a Bottle’, though ‘De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da’ was slightly modified for key and, perhaps, to keep things interesting for the band.
Sting remains a formidable presence on stage, one who turned romantic for ‘Fields of Gold’ and shook his hips provocatively during the world beat intro to ‘Desert Rose’.
Wrapping his performance with a trio of Police reflections – ‘Walking on the Moon’, ‘King of Pain’ and ‘Every Breath You Take’ – Sting demonstrated that nostalgia done right can be a powerful thing.
The engaging Potter warmed up the crowd for Sting with a meaty performance that showcased her ability to be a rock yowler with a honeyed touch.
Bopping around the stage in her bare feet and a shimmery green dress, Potter and the Nocturnals riffed through a cover of Tom Petty’s ‘American Girl’, given a new girlish energy, before she strapped on her guitar for the band’s best-known song, ‘Paris (Ooh La La)’.
Although Potter is undeniably the focal point, the Nocturnals – Matt Burr, Scott Tournet, Benny Yurco and Michael Libramento – made a big sound behind her, none so much as the ending of ‘Medicine’, in which the entire band, Potter included, played a portion of a drum set simultaneously.
This weekend of free shows was produced by Turner Live Events and the NCAA, and both should be commended for culling a multi-genre lineup with widespread appeal.
With Zac Brown Band anchoring Friday night, Muse rocking on Saturday (brief sound issue aside) after a hip-hop-heavy afternoon featuring Ludacris and Flo Rida and Sting and Potter complementing DMB on Sunday, there could be little legitimate quibbling about performers.
Now, time to play ball.