Feedback: Bend’s biggest music shows

Slideshow: Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews play to packed houses

By Ben Salmon / The Bulletin / @frequencyblog

Published Aug 28, 2014 at 12:11PM

In case you missed it — how that could be, I have no idea — Sunday and Tuesday brought folk-pop star Jack Johnson and jam-rock juggernaut the Dave Matthews Band, respectively, to Bend’s Les Schwab Amphitheater for highly anticipated concerts.

With them came the biggest crowds to pack Bend’s largest music venue since the mid-2000s, when Johnson sold out the 8,000-capacity place. Both of this week’s shows sold out in short order last winter.

Here was my primary nonmusical takeaway from the shows: I can’t believe how uncrowded it felt, especially Sunday, when by 9 p.m. my friends and I had a large swath of grass to fill with corny dance moves. Credit for the elbow room goes to two places, I think: 1) Organizers’ decision to disallow chairs and blankets at each show, and to move space-eating VIP tents. And 2) The generally courteous nature of both crowds. I saw no conflict either night. Kudos all around, fellow humans.

The Schwab was buzzing for both shows: More food vendors than usual. Long lines at the bathrooms. Bootleg T-shirts being sold outside. It was a fun scene befitting big shows for our little town.

As for the music? I’m going to leave most of the assessment to you and your friends. It was clear to me that lots of people loved the shows, and that’s what matters.

But quickly: I never listen to Jack Johnson’s music, but I enjoy it and think he seems like a good dude. On Sunday, I learned that no one locks into a groove and rides it for two hours like this guy.

There aren’t peaks or valleys in his show. You won’t be disappointed, but your mind won’t be blown, either. It’s two hours of Jack Johnson songs played plainly and effortlessly. It’s like watching the heart rate of a perfectly healthy person sitting still until the end of time.

It’s impressive, the consistency. It also brings out the sameness of his songs after an hour or so of listening to the same acoustic guitar chop.

Highlights included “Taylor,” with its perfect, feathery chorus, covers of Buddy Holly, The Ramones, Bo Diddley and Jimi Hendrix, and an accordion-fueled “Shot Reverse Shot,” which was the closest the band came to truly rocking out. But Johnson saved his best for last, filling his encore with three mostly solo, acoustic love songs that rang out loud and clear into the night sky.

Where Johnson’s show felt like one long, likable plateau, Matthews’ built all night long. He started his hourlong acoustic set with a solo cover of John Denver’s “Take Me to Tomorrow” and ended it with a full-band “What Would You Say?” In between, “Stay or Leave” — especially its’ second-half bloom — stood out as a gorgeous example of Matthews’ unconventional melodic gift. The second half of the set bogged down in limp, aimless jams, however.

After a half-hour break, the DMB came back out and flexed its muscles, starting its electric set with smoke, lights and the rad repeating horn part of “One Sweet World,” which seemed to signal the show was about to really begin. The band got louder from there, and the most dazzling non-Sigur Ros light show I’ve seen at the Schwab came to life. Of note: The super-cool, thin dancing lights that pinstriped the night sky during “Belly Belly Nice.”

Occasionally, Matthews would stop to chide the crowd for keeping this region of the country secret, or to joke around in an odd, affected voice that sounded like a wizened old Cajun man (or an Adam Sandler character). He’s a charming guy. And there were several more songs, but by that time, I was losing interest. Matthews’ band is unquestionably tight and skilled; watching it work revealed no part out of place, no weak link in the chain. I just don’t find the songs interesting. They’re not bad, they just don’t appeal to me.

So I wandered back to sit in one spot and watch people, and the music — big, bruising, bluesy folk-rock jams — faded into the background. That was more fun for me, anyway. Watching smiles stumble by proved to be an appropriate and enjoyable coda to an important 48 hours for Bend’s music scene.

— Reporter: 541-383-0377, bsalmon@bendbulletin.com