MANSFIELD — At its best, the Dave Matthews Band spins a unique brand of progressive pop, fusing exotica with catchiness in a manner similar to Steely Dan or Traffic. But the band also likes to feed the beast and generates a fair number of pleasant but predictable tunes seemingly to keep itself interested in staying out on the road for long stretches.
Last year, the band actually broke from tradition and only played at four of its curated festivals. The return to regular touring brought it to the Comcast Center Tuesday, and Matthews will be there again Wednesday.
The difference between fiery and competent last night had nothing to do with old songs versus new songs. “Gaucho,” a song primed for the band’s forthcoming album, was a bright, propulsive burst played deep into the two-hour concert. Conversely, after a muscled “Don’t Drink the Water” that opened the show, the band meandered through “Seven” and “You Never Know,” older songs that sounded rote and served as a weak setup to a bit of improvised jamming that had Matthews singing about a fallen friend, presumably the band’s original sax player, LeRoi Moore.
But the Dave Matthews Band is a talented bunch, and can quickly snap a lull, which is exactly what happened with “Why I Am,” a song full of vivid lyrical imagery and elastic dynamics.
Matthews played mostly acoustic guitar, letting Tim Reynolds handle the electric parts. Drummer Carter Beauford, bassist Stefan Lessard, and violin player Boyd Tinsley — the other founding members — helped him push familiar songs into new spaces. Sax player Jeff Coffin and trumpet player Rashawn Ross helped breathe new life into old concert faves such as “Say Goodbye.” After reaching back for “Song that Jane Likes,” a tune from the band’s earliest days, they closed out the show by flaunting their present-day prowess with rangy renditions of “Lie in Our Graves” and “Pantala Naga Pampa/Rapunzel.”
Carolina Chocolate Drops opened with an inventive set that pulled Johnny Cash’s “Jackson” and Blu Cantrell’s “Hit Em Up Style” into a repertoire of old-timey acoustic music.