Weighing Public Problems and Personal Pleasures

Dave Matthews Band fans shouted “LeRoi! LeRoi!” on Monday night at the Beacon Theater, naming the longtime band member who wasn’t there.

LeRoi Moore, the saxophonist who was a founding member of the Dave Matthews Band, died last August, and his nickname, Grux, is memorialized in the title and songs of its new album, “Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King”; the album begins with “Grux,” featuring Mr. Moore’s saxophone. His death catalyzed the latest sea change in the band’s music, which has seesawed through the years between light-fingered, open-ended jams and beefier, more concise songs.

The band was in song mode at the Beacon Theater — a small room for a band that generally plays arenas — featuring material from its new album for a live telecast on the Fuse cable channel. It was also rocking out. In the touring band, the addition of Tim Reynolds on electric guitar, who has toured in a duo with Mr. Matthews, has transformed both new and old material.

In its longtime incarnation as a five-man group — with the unusual, largely unplugged lineup of acoustic guitar (Mr. Matthews), violin (Boyd Tinsley), saxophone (Mr. Moore), bass (Stefan Lessard) and drums (Carter Beauford) — the Dave Matthews Band built a pointillistic, syncopated sound. The music was lean and maneuverable, able to shift in moments from Celtic to jazz to folk-rock to acoustic funk; as if the counterpoint weren’t complex enough, the music moves freely in and out of odd meters.

The moods swerve too. In his lyrics and a voice that’s both robust and melancholy, Mr. Matthews ponders the gap between public problems and personal pleasures, particularly love and lust. (He sings about affectionate lovemaking more often than any other jam-band leader, and he has a larger female audience to show for it.) “Funny the Way It Is,” the song that started Monday’s three-hour set, juxtaposed joys and misfortunes: “On a soldier’s last breath his baby’s being born.”

In “Out of My Hands,” a song with sparse, two-note piano parts from the band’s 2005 album, “Stand Up,” Mr. Matthews sang about feeling insane, “looking down from here, out on my window ledge.” Yet the band rarely broods for long; the music stays brisk and upbeat.

But it has thickened lately. The current stage band includes a horn section — Rashawn Ross on trumpet, and Jeff Coffin on saxophones — along with Mr. Reynolds. More sidemen mean less spontaneity; although there were some extended solos, there was no uncharted, full-band improvisation.

Mr. Reynolds’s lead guitar was all over the arrangements: in swooping slide solos, in wailing hard-rock leads, in busy progressive-rock arpeggios. It was virtuosic, but it was also a tilt toward the conventional for a band whose distinctive eccentricities were already drawing stadium crowds.

Mr. Matthews is still no overbearing rock star. In the course of the set he cheerfully deprecated his voice (citing a cold), his piano playing and his dancing, a gawky but exuberant mixture of trucking and clog-dancing: “The reason that I dance,” he said, “is because I like to dance, not because I’m good at it.” His band’s music still dances too, only a little less strangely than before.


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