There are few bands that draw a more diverse set of feelings out of me than Dave Matthews Band. And I’m not talking about what emotions a particular song evokes or how their music impacts me. No, what I’m talking about is completely based on taste. DMB is one of those acts that I both love and hate. Above all else, I have a deep respect for the incredible amount of talent that this band possesses. Carter Beauford is one of the most talented drummers of his generation, Tim Reynolds is an amazing guitarist, and Boyd Tensley is dynamite on the violin. No one with any kind of cultured taste in music could ever deny this band’s mastery of their craft. That isn’t to say that it is to everyone’s taste, because it most certainly isn’t, but dammit are they good at what they do. It’s ultimately that respect for their talent that draws me into their music at all.
Make no mistake, jam bands are rarely my flavor. O.A.R., Counting Crows, and Rusted Root have some decent songs, but I wouldn’t call any one of them a great band. And I certainly wouldn’t call myself a fan of their music. The same can also be said of Dave Matthews Band. I don’t consider myself a fan. They have songs that I like, and believe me when I say that the songs that I like I actually kind of love. I can sing the words, tap along to the beat, and rock out behind my steering wheel with the best of them. Just ask my wife (a self professed fan of DMB). On the flip side of that coin, the songs that I don’t know or haven’t latched on to as being favorites, I honestly don’t really care about. They’re just okay. Still very talent rich, but they don’t do anything for me.
So what’s the point of all this? Well, this Saturday I’ll be seeing Dave Matthews Band perform live for the fifth time. As I said, my wife is a fan, as are my sister and brother in law. So every year we get tickets and every year we attend. At this point, I’ve seen DMB live more times than any other musical act, including bands and artists that I consider some of my favorites. Partly this is because of my wife, yes, but there is more to it than that. Like what? Well, I’m glad you asked…
- This Band Is Amazing Live
I can’t really overstate this point. There is absolutely no other way to experience Dave Matthews Band than live. Currently they boast a catalog of over sixty live albums that they’ve released, and those are all pretty great. Live at Folsom Field, Boulder, Colorado is my personal favorite, but it is pretty old at this point and is missing a large portion of their catalog. Still, the live albums don’t compare to the experience of seeing them in person.
Being a jam band lends itself extremely well to live performances. They will routinely turn what was a seven minute recording into a twenty or thirty minute live song. I’ve witnessed, with my own two eyes, a duel between a guitar and a saxophone that blew my mind. Playing sharply and accurately off of the pickups of the guitar type of amazing. Timing changes that are abrupt but still fluid. It is quite a musical spectacle to behold. Despite the epic length of these songs, it never feels burdensome or stretched. They have a magical way of drawing you into what they are doing and taking you along for the ride.
- They Have a Massive Catalog
DMB has been making music together for twenty-five years, and in that time they have released eight full length albums. Which means they have a ton of songs to pull from, and they aren’t afraid to make some deep cuts when they put together their live sets. Unlike most bands, DMB doesn’t ever fall back on the classic hits that everyone knows. They’ve cultivated a following that mostly knows every song, or at least most of the songs. Of all the times I’ve seen them live, I’ve yet to see two set lists that shared that much in common. In fact, last year when I saw them, they played two sets over the course of three hours and only played one song that I knew that well; Ants Marching. Everyone else seemed to know every song, but as a non-fan among superfans, I couldn’t follow along.
That’s okay, because as disappointing as it can be to go to a show and not hear much that you are familiar with (despite spending days trying to expand your DMB listening base), at least I haven’t seen them live five times and heard the exact same set of songs five times. That would be incredibly boring. It’s too bad I couldn’t keep that frame of mind during the show last year, but copious amounts of alcohol kind of knocked me off my game. It was a bad experience best left in the past.
- The Experience
Most concerts aren’t events. You show up a little early to stand in line after the doors open up. Maybe you shuffle to the merch table or tent, grab a drink and maybe some food, then find your seats and settle in for the show. Not at a Dave Matthews Concert. No, people show up to a DMB show hours in advance. People tailgate these things. There are grills, games, drinks, you name it. We’ve even adopted the practice of bringing our own portable toilet with us that basically consists of a tent with a bucket in it.
In a lot of ways, I look forward to the tailgating as much, if not more, as I do the concert itself. Partially because once you go in the drinks quadruple in price, but also because of the atmosphere. Being in that parking lot makes you feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself, and that’s a feeling you can’t get by listening to a CD or streaming them on Google Music or Spotify (or insert your music service of choice). This is one of those bands that have a community more than they have a fan-base, and while there are plenty of dude-bro douche bags littering the pack, most of them are pretty chill and just out for a good time. Those are the ones to surround yourself with in all cases.
I would encourage anyone who has written off Dave Matthews Band for whatever reason to at least check them out. They certainly aren’t playing within a genre that everyone loves, especially the younger crowd. I know a lot of my fellow millennials absolutely hate jam bands. Which is too bad, because they only music genre that is acceptable to hate is country, so they should be saving their energy for that. Anyway, below is a list of songs that are worth giving a listen. They’ve hooked me, a non-fan, so maybe they’ll hook you too. Oh, and as always, find the live versions. Never the studio versions. Now, GO FORTH!
Ants Marching; Two Step; Don’t Drink the Water; The Stone; You and Me; Bartender; Grace Is Gone; Jimi Thing; Tripping Billies; What You Are; Warehouse; You Might Die Trying; Everyday; Big Eyed Fish; I Did It; So Right; Stay (Wasting Time); So Much To Say