Maybe something happened when the Dave Matthews Band played in St. Paul on the eve of the 2018 Super Bowl.
On Sunday at Target Center, in DMB's first local gig since then, Matthews asserted himself as a pro football analyst.
"That was a good game," he declared after a few songs, without having to mention that he was referring to the Vikings-Bills thriller. Then he demurred, saying, at first, it wasn't so good. "Then it got good. It was nice to be in this building when the game ended because there was a lot of happy voices" among the Minneapolis arena's crew.
And there were even more happy voices on Sunday night — about 12,000 of them — thanks to the often thrilling 2¾-hour marathon performance by DMB.
Unlike the Vikings, this ensemble started strong and bold, in a decidedly funky mode. The group opened with the funk-rock groover "So Right," tore into the insistent funk of "So Much To Say" accompanied by a backdrop of artful designs that looked like live State Fair spin-a-paints, and then came "Anyone Seen the Bridge" and the determinedly funky "Too Much."
"Happy Sunday!" declared Matthews, the jam-band king who had unexpectedly morphed into the godson of funk.
Then DMB dialed it down with a rendition of Daniel Lanois' "The Maker," treated as a reggae-tinged hymn. But there was more funk to come, including a hard-edged reading of Peter Gabriel's 1986 smash "Sledgehammer," featuring Matthews' nerdy dad-rock dancing, the stomping metallic funk of "Rooftop" and the emphatically herky-jerky funk of 1998's "Pantala Naga Pampa," during which Matthews romped around as saxophonist Jeff Coffin and trumpeter Rashawn Ross jammed to the delight of the crowd.
Of course, the 31-year-old Dave Matthews Band is not merely a funk band. America's biggest jam band plays a mélange of funk, folk-rock, jazz, math-rock, metal, blues and South African pop. (Matthews was born in South Africa but has lived most of his life in the States, founding DMB in Virginia but now living in Seattle.) There is always room for improvisation and jamming, but their jams are substantive expressions, not aimless rambling.
That's because Matthews, 55, the unassuming namesake, may write and sing the songs and play rhythm guitar but he doesn't dominate DMB the way, say, Jerry Garcia did the Grateful Dead, the ultimate cult band. DMB is a democratic septet: Everyone gets to showcase their talents even though Matthews is the mouthpiece.
Guitarist Tim Reynolds took some extended solos, notably on "#41" starting with a slow, soulful passage, segueing into jazzy flamenco and then going on a trippy rock excursion. On "Dancing Nancies," Reynolds traveled between prog rock and jazz-rock fusion, woven together by a gypsy vibe. He may not be as seamless as John Mayer or Garcia, but Reynolds was consistently compelling.
This was the first DMB performance in the Twin Cities with new keyboardist Buddy Strong, who used to tour with Usher and Ariana Grande and who joined in the summer of 2018. He added depth and some artful introductions to a couple of numbers and soloed on the triumphal, Caribbean-flavored "Warehouse" and the propulsive finale "Two Step."
Maybe the only disappointment was that DMB twice teased a snippet of "Water Into Wine" and Matthews did a taste of the blues "Kill the Preacher" but never delivered either song in full. DMB, like the Vikings on Sunday, might let fans down occasionally but the band ultimately triumphed.