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Dave Matthews Band

+ {Dave Matthews} + {Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds}

Like GRATEFUL DEAD before them, the multi-racial/genre-busting DAVE MATTHEWS BAND are essentially an American phenomenon. However, unlike GARCIA and Co, this ensemble seemed forever and a day precluded from a full cultural translation into the British rock mainstream, that’s despite their easy-going STING-meets-PETER GABRIEL hybrid of pop-jam AOR. Not that this UK chart-angst alienation was likely to bother DMB too much, especially when their studio albums frequently topped the charts Stateside. On a similar beat-the-bootleggers wavelength to GRATEFUL DEAD and PEARL JAM; though not as demanding and penny-pinching, a raft of concert set albums trickled out from their estuary of live gigs.
Formed in Charlottesville, Virginia, the “phenomenon” began in early 1991, when Johannesburg-born singer-songwriter/guitarist David John Matthews (b. January 9, 1967) auditioned drummer Carter Beauford and, in turn, saxophonist LeRoi Moore, in order to record a demo. From New York via Cambridge, England, and a return to the Big Apple via Johannesburg (to avoid the dreaded draft), Charlottesville barman-by-day/entertainer-by night Dave gathered together an eclectic bunch of musicians (Beauford, Moore, bassist Stefan Lessard and violinist Boyd Tinsley) to perform as The DAVE MATTHEWS BAND for, what was to be, their inaugural self-financed REMEMBER TWO THINGS (1993) {*6} album; note that short-term keyboardist Peter Griesar had left that March. A live acoustic-based jazz-tinged set, the record (showcasing versions of `Recently’, `Ants Marching’ and `Satellite’) caught the attention of conglomerate R.C.A.. who signed the combo after the `Recently’ live mini-set EP was dispatched the following May; it featured a cover of DYLAN’s `All Along The Watchtower’.
Jam-packed with studio versions of their live faves, DAVE MATTHEWS BAND’s proper debut for the label, UNDER THE TABLE AND DREAMING (1994) {*8}, slowly but surely climbed into the Top 20; selling three million copies along the way. The album was dedicated to Dave’s older sister, Anne, who was killed by her husband in a murder-suicide earlier in the year.
Competing for similar territory to the likes of COUNTING CROWS; or even BLUES TRAVELER and HOOTIE & THE BLOWFISH, the band delivered another set of well-crafted rootsy rock tunes on 1996’s CRASH {*8}; a record which shot straight in at No.2 with relatively little press or TV exposure; certainly none in the UK, where DMB were still a non-entity – even to this day. Highlighting memorable signature tune, `Crash Into Me’ (surely one-that-got-away chart-wise), jazzy opener `So Much To Say’, the eclectic murmuring of Two Step’ and the funk-driven `Too Much’, the skilful fusion of folky worldbeat was prevalent thereafter.
The beating of the bootleggers by way of an injunction from the US federal government to prevent the influx of foreign imports meant that DAVE MATTHEWS BAND – and others – was free of this plight. To combat any further moratorium disputes, bootlegging the bootleggers was apparent on the ensemble’s next release: the double-CD archival album, LIVE AT RED ROCKS 8.15.95 (1997) {*7}, which gate-crashed the charts at No.2.
Jumping into smoother jazz-funk or acoustic terrain, British audiences once again shunned the US chart-topping BEFORE THESE CROWDED STREETS (1998) {*7}. Very much in the mould of JOHN MARTYN and STING (even HUE & CRY), `Rapunzel’ and `Don’t Drink The Water’ were throwbacks to the previous decade. But then when the classical, KRONOS QUARTET-augmented flourishes kicked into gear on `Halloween’ (think “Peter & The Wolf”), `Pig’ and `The Stone’, the improvs of `Crush’ (a minor hit), got somewhat trampled underfoot.
Stepping out again on the rather obligatory “BtB” series of concert doubles, LIVE AT LUTHER COLLEGE (1999) {*7} – billed as Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds: live in Decorah, Iowa on February 6, 1996 – and the DMB update, LISTENER SUPPORTED (1999) {*7}, fans sounded in full support of one of America’s biggest attractions.
Shelving a fully-fledged record with long-time producer, Steve Lillywhite, a second No.1 studio set, EVERYDAY (2001) {*5}, was universally panned by the critics. Utilising, instead, the production skills of Glen Ballard (the geezer behind ALANIS MORISSETTE’s Jagged Little Pill), the improv formula was lost. This lack of resolve filtered through to this final version; a partially successful effort to rein in the group’s inherent jamming impulse for a leaner, more focused sound. At least one highlight, `The Space Between’, was a classy PETER GABRIEL-styled single that made the Top 40 on both sides of the Atlantic!
Those abandoned sessions became such an albatross around the band’s neck that they eventually decided to dust down the tapes, spruce them up a bit and re-record them with a different producer (Stephen Harris). Released on the back of yet another obligatory concert diversion a la LIVE IN CHICAGO 12.19.98 AT THE UNITED CENTER (2001) {*6}, the resultant No.1 album BUSTED STUFF (2002) {*8} was everything “Everyday” was not – a remarkable soul-searching set of songs; from the title track and hit `Where Are You Going’, to `Captain’ and `Digging A Ditch’. There was precious little jamming for jamming’s sake to be found, as MATTHEWS, for once, let his songwriting really do the talking. A fan of the band, RYLEY WALKER, re-imagined these times under the microscopic 2018-dispatched “The Lillywhite Sessions”.
In fact, bandleader DAVE MATTHEWS was presumably so glad to have belatedly embraced these cast-offs that he carried the concept and vibe over to 2003’s SOME DEVIL {*6}; a near chart-topping record sandwiched between DMB recordings, LIVE AT FOLSOM FIELD, BOULDER, COLORADO (2002) {*7}, THE CENTRAL PARK CONCERT (2003) {*7} and THE GORGE (2004) {*7}; the latter pair triple-sets.
Whether acolytes preferred the jam/improv aspect of their live adventures (a cover of NEIL YOUNG’s `Cortez The Killer’ was a highlight), the DAVE MATTHEWS BAND were almost putting themselves into a corner when it came to writing fresh material. Although the Mark Batson-produced follow-up set, STAND UP (2005) {*5}, chalked up their fourth No.1 – and a major chart entry for spawn `American Baby’ – the DAVE MATTHEWS BAND were indeed flagging on a critical level.
Featuring a cover of The ZOMBIES’ `Time Of The Season’, WEEKEND ON THE ROCKS (2005) {*6}, kept the motor running until 2007’s Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds sequel-of-sorts, LIVE AT RADIO CITY {*7} cracked the Top 3. Fans could’ve been forgiven had they bailed at this stage; and some of them certainly seemed to be irked when LIVE AT PIEDMONT PARK (2007) {*6} and the triple LIVE AT MILE HIGH MUSIC FESTIVAL (2008) {*6} only mounted an assault on mid-table Billboard chart positions. The latter set introduced newbie 5th member, Jeff Coffin, who replaced the great LeRoi Moore, after the saxophonist died on August 19, 2008. Within its jam-fest of delights and best-known cuts, were renditions of PETER GABRIEL’s `Sledgehammer’ and SLY & THE FAMILY STONE’s `Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)’.
In homage to LeRoi, the long-awaited studio comeback of the DAVE MATTHEWS BAND’s BIG WHISKEY AND THE GROOGRUX KING (2009) {*7} was existential. There was indeed no shock when it shot into the top slot, but there was a little ripple of astonishment when the funky record dented the UK Top 60. Openly pining the death of their sax-player under the cloud of the recent Hurricane Katrina disasters – and war in general – it all sounded a tad STING-on-a-mission. However, DMB sentiments were decidedly profound on minor radio hits, `Funny The Way It Is’, `Why I Am’ and `You And Me’.
Bypassing a discographer’s nightmare in the “Live Trax” series of archival documents that would make PEARL JAM-mers blush, DAVE MATTHEWS BAND continued to flood the market of bona fide retailers a la EUROPE 2009 (2009) {*6}, LIVE IN LAS VEGAS (2010) {*6} – as Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds – LIVE IN NEW YORK CITY (2010) {*6}, and the ultimate 4xCD pocket-pincher, LIVE AT WRIGLEY FIELD (2011) {*6}.
Thankfully for American music buffs still going through austere times, the “official” live sets were curtailed with the release of their sixth chart-topping studio set, AWAY FROM THE WORLD (2012) {*6}. Having joined in late 2005 as a guest (guitarist Tim Reynolds had superseded Butch Taylor in that respect in 2008), trumpeter Rashawn Ross became a bone fide member for this record. Burying the proverbial hatchet with Steve Lillywhite, the producer tried hard to apply his Midas touch credence toward the band’s nocturnal jazz-meets-pop tunes. `Belly Belly Nice’ was as corny as the seductive title suggested, and everything on board seemed to exercise 90s nostalgia rather than looking into the present and future. There were exceptions to the rule, and these were projected in the beautiful `Sweet’, `The Riff’ and the climactic, `Rooftop’.
Without a concert album package in sight; although they toured just about every summer, the DAVE MATTHEWS BAND were indeed “Away From The World”. It was coming up for six barren years when 2018’s COME TOMORROW {*8} was announced. Dispatched that June – but not in Britain! – their seventh No.1 set divided the critics once again. Others not so overwhelmed with DMB’s past flourishes of life, now ticked the work of producers Rob Cavallo, John Algia and Mark Batson, who somehow managed to squeeze a spiritual U2-meets-KINGS OF LEON sound out of seminal song, `Samurai Cop (Oh Joy Begin)’ – their most glowing four minutes since `Crash Into Me’. The glory continued unabated via the funky `Can’t Stop’, the soft-shoe-shuffle of `Here On Out’, the gospel-tinged `That Girl Is You’, the uplifting `Come On Come On’, and concert piece, `Idea Of You’. The only bad mark on the set was when the departing Boyd Tinsley was embroiled in accusations of sexual misconduct against former Crystal Garden member James Frost-Winn. He strenuously denied the charges and has vowed to fight on; keyboardist Buddy Strong took his place from there on in.
© MC Strong/MCS 1996-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Dec2018

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