Toward the end of his band’s three-hour show at Circuit of the Americas, Dave Matthews thanked the crowd for sticking it out through “the rain, or the threat thereof.” Wetness was all around, but actual sprinkles were few and far between, and the sky even gave way to a glorious orange sunset behind the Austin360 Amphitheater as the band wrapped up its initial acoustic set.
“We’re going to open for ourselves,” Matthews explained early on, as the band began a three-month North American tour with the acoustic-followed-by-electric double-shot they’ve often used in two decades as one of the world’s top-drawing live acts. The format suits them well, allow Matthews and his six bandmates to gradually ease into the moment and stretch their boundaries a bit.
Wednesday evening, that included Matthews taking an entirely solo turn on John Denver’s “Take Me to Tomorrow,” a song he’s played a handful of times on recent tours. It’s an intriguing choice, not only because it wasn’t one of Denver’s big hits, but also because Denver’s own arrangement is much fuller. Matthews finds something new in the tune by stripping it down to its essentials as he declares, “The day after tomorrow is waiting for me.”
After that brief solo moment, Matthews brought the band back and cranked into much more familiar territory, closing the acoustic set with energetic renditions of mid-’90s staples “Tripping Billies,” “What Would You Say” and “Two Step.” His fans responded in kind, gleefully singing along on songs they’ve known by heart for two decades.
Though Matthews gave them quite a few songs from his early years, he also worked in a brand new song, “Black and Blue Birds,” early in the second set. And he devoted a good chunk of the second set to songs from more recent records, notably 2009’s “Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King” and 2012’s “Away From the World.” The funky “Belly Belly Nice,” with its catchy chorus chant “You can’t get too much love,” got the crowd revved up, but more revelatory was a 10-minute version of the introspective “Mercy,” on which Matthews switched to piano for mesmerizing, jazz-inspired interplay with clarinetist Jeff Coffin.
More traditional DMB jamming inevitably followed on the 20-minute melding of “Dancing Nancies” and “Warehouse” from 1994’s breakthrough album “Under the Table and Dreaming,” with violinist Boyd Tinsley stepping out in grand form on the former. Matthews subsequently gave a proper introduction to his six bandmates — Tinsley, Coffin, bassist Stefan Lessard, guitarist Tim Reynolds, trumpeter Rashawn Ross and drummer Carter Beauford — before wrapping up with crowd-pleasers “You and Me” and “Grey Street.”
“That was a good first night, I think,” Matthews concluded as the band returned for a three-song encore highlighted by the 1998 rocker “Rapunzel.” “I hope you had a good time too,” he added. That much was a given, all dampness aside: The amphitheater chairs may have been wet, but there’s little doubt that most of the audience would have stood for the whole show even if the seats had been dry.
1. Snow Outside
2. Save Me
4. So Damn Lucky
5. Grace Is Gone
6. Take Me to Tomorrow
7. Tripping Billies
8. What Would You Say
9. Two Step
— Intermission —
11. Black and Blue Birds
12. You Might Die Trying
13. Belly Belly Nice
16. Shake Me Like a Monkey
17-18. Dancing Nancies / Warehouse
19. You and Me
20. Grey Street
— Encore —
22. Water Into Wine
23-24. Pantala Naga Pampa / Rapunzel