MARCH 2005

Once a phenomenon solely attached to North America, the Dave Matthews Band this week calmly conquered Melbourne in two nights of diverse, but equally rich, sets.

After an attempt to tour in 2001 was thwarted by post-9/11 terrorist threats, the unbridled pre-show audience enthusiasm they received ensured an ear-splitting ovation lasting several minutes both nights before the band had played a note. When they did, each track was greeted with an instantaneous and enthusiastic roar: first of acknowledgement, then approval.

The Dave Matthews Band rarely shows instrumental restraint. Most songs feature indulgent, fleshed out, groove-laden solos. As if to emphasise the effort, the band pauses briefly after each track to re-load and re-focus.

While Matthews is undoubtedly the star, the band maintains that every member is equal. This was reflected in the solo time each seized. Frenetic drummer Carter Beauford was particularly superb and a big crowd favourite. But sometimes affection can get ugly. While Sunday's show was a love-in that yielded some candid and impromptu whooping from Matthews himself, Monday night's fans seemed to possess a tangible sense of ownership over the band that went beyond the endearing cat-calling.

While Matthews responded with a thick yelp in his most affectionate Australian accent on Sunday, he sarcastically reminded Monday's audience that it's rude not to say please or thank you. "I can't play everything," he shrugged.  "There's a place over the way from Acland Street called the USA," Matthews announced on Sunday, before launching into the new single American Baby. Monday's exceptional finale, Ants Marching, underlined Matthews' modest charm. A low-key tour was suddenly a triumph with the promise of an imminent return.