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Originally published April 12, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 12, 2008 at 2:16 PM

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Oh humble night: Dalai Lama, Dave Matthews, Death Cab for Cutie

Dave Matthews and Death Cab For Cutie play a concert at the Seeds of Compassion event showcasing the Dalai Lama.

Seattle Times staff reporter

This weekend thousands may descend upon Seattle to study compassion, but it was humility that shone at a Friday night kickoff concert for the Seeds of Compassion festival at KeyArena.

From the Dalai Lama's foam maroon visor to Dave Matthews' everyman demeanor, the stage was rid of ego. Even the super-popular band Death Cab for Cutie, which made a surprise opening appearance, modestly introduced itself.

Matthews, the music headliner, wore self professed "chill" clothes — a well-loved looking shirt and gray slacks. And, between his songs, he spoke frankly with the audience on random topics like tortoise matings.

Many, including Matthews himself, wondered how the night would work out, starting with the conversation with the Dalai Lama first, and the concert following. But Matthews' humor and openness was enlightening. While the Dalai Lama elaborated on his philosophies, Matthews brought the teachings closer to home.

For example, when the Dalai Lama challenged everyone to turn their enemies into a friends, Matthews gave his own example of his worst enemies. A gang of boys from a neighboring high school came over for a fight, but a conversation transformed them into his closest friends. And when the Dalai Lama said it is often females that are the source of compassion, Matthews added that it is his wife that often calms him down when he can't contain his anger, by looking at him as if he is crazy.

While the Dalai Lama was talking, Dave Matthews' body was bent, anxiously and awkwardly listening. In his concert later, he admitted that he was nervous. In front of His Holiness, it was easy to feel graceless, and Matthews' lack of pretense put the audience at ease.

And the stage echoed its performers' humility — there were only two chairs, two guitars and one mic. Yet Matthews' partner Tim Reynolds easily filled this hole. With his one guitar, Reynolds simulated the sounds of the rest of a band. In a solo, he demonstrated how rich that one instrument could be.

And while the Dalai Lama kicked off the evening with spiritual philosophy, Matthews rounded out the night with a revival of sorts.

Hands were held high, some in prayers of respect and others outstretched in joy. Matthews aims to touch people, and his songs did just that.

Matthews showcased jam songs like the jovial "Cornbread," the tender "Sister" and the romantic "Where Are You Going." He also sang a more recent song "Eh Hee," from the 2007 album "Live at Radio City Music Hall," and his 2001 hit "Everyday," which got the whole audience singing along. And, he encored with the older song "Lie in Our Graves" from his 1996 album, "Crash."

The songs transported the audience — many in their 30s and 40s — back to college when the Dave Matthews Band first debuted. Death Cab, though of a more recent generation, was a good match for Matthews. Both have a wistful tone about them; their songs make you reminisce of slower days.

The Bellingham band played a short set and debuted the song, "Talking Bird." Lead singer Ben Gibbard also applied the Dalai Lama's teaching, saying he needed to practice compassion on his wayward microphone.

Marian Liu: 206-464-3825 or mliu@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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