Dave Matthews Band
The blending of Country and Blues worked as the foundation for Rock 'n' Roll. Mixing other styles with Rock has generally produced unfavorable results. The most common and most unsuccessful was Jazz. It usually yielded something that was neither Jazz nor Rock, but clearly second rate. The Dave Matthews Band was interesting because in their hands, it worked.
Dave Matthews was born in South Africa but immigrated to the U.S. when his dad got a job at IBM. After Matthews' dad passed away he and his mother headed back for South Africa. But Matthews eventually made the trek back. That cross-cultural experience had to have an impact on Matthews' musical efforts.
Aside from Matthews, who handled vocals and guitar, the Band consisted of LeRoi Moore (reeds), Boyd Tinsley (violin), Stefan Lessard (bass) and the incredible Carter Beauford (drums). Their first recording was the indie release (on the Bama Rags label) "Remember Two Things." If it had sold 10 to 25-thousand units it would have been considered a success. It eventually moved over a half-million copies. That kind of action was bound to attract a major label. Fairly quickly the group was signed to RCA. "Under The Table And Dreaming," entirely composed by Matthews, was the group's major label debut. Led by the track "Ants Marching" the album blended a "world of influences" and displayed the band's improvisational talents. Its success also drove renewed interest in "Remember Two Things."
"Crash" followed in '96 but lacked the debut's' freshness and intrigue. The Dave Matthews Band also produced a live set aptly entitled "Live At Red Rocks 8.15.95."
"Before These Crowded Streets" featured ominous lyrics and harder sound. Matthews' vocals had a conversational, top of the mind quality, with unique inflections. Perfect. The single "Stay - Wasting Time" was an excellent example of the multi-layered production DMB could create.
With the turn of the century, the Dave Matthews Band hit a rough spot. After working with producer Steve Lillywhite (U2), the group decided to ditch the dark and brooding project and partnered with Russ Ballard for a more straight-ahead Rock (for them) approach on "Everyday." Though a commercial success, hard core Dave Matthews fans and critics (often the same people) disowned it. Meanwhile, the so-called "Lillywhite sessions" were distributed online and readily available to every bootlegger. End result, the Dave Matthews Band re-recorded the songs from the Lillywhite sessions, if only to set the record straight. "Busted Stuff" came out in '02. A year later Matthews released his "Some Devil" CD. With the solo venture out of the way, the group reconvened to produce "Stand Up" in '05. Then came "Live At Fenway Park, Boston MA," a four CD set. The songs were primarily from the group's mid-90s material.
In late '07, a whole month passed without a release of a live Dave Matthews Band CD (kidding!). "Live At Piedmont," recorded earlier in the year, arrived at Christmastime. Recorded in Atlanta, at the aforementioned park, the three disc offering had contributions from guitarist Warren Hayes (Allman Brothers Band/Gov't Mule) on "What Would You Say" while Gregg Allman and Matthews sang a duet on the Allman Brother's classic "Melissa." The set also contained DMB favorites "Two Step," "Too Much," and "Ants Marching" plus a cover of "All Along The Watchtower."
When a band's original line-up plays their last show it either means a permanent and usually ugly break-up or tragedy. Often, the group has no idea it's coming. DMB's original line-up played their last show on June 28th, '08, at the Nissan Pavilion in Bristow, Virginia.
Just two days later, Moore was seriously injured in an ATV accident on his Charlottesville farm. Saxophonist Jeff Coffin, of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, filled in for Moore for the remainder of the tour. Meanwhile, Moore was transferred to Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles to undergo intensive physical rehabilitation program. But less than a month after the accident he passed away from "sudden complications."
Ironically, DMB had a show in L.A. that evening at the Staples Center. During the concert Matthews paid tribute to Moore calling him a "dear friend."
With the tour completed DMB went to work on their next album titled, "Big Whiskey And The GrooGrux King." GrooGrux King was the nickname the band had given Moore. The set, with the intriguing sliding puzzle cover and the single "Funny The Way It Is," landed in May, '09.
'11 marked the 20th anniversary of the Dave Matthews Band. But rather than embark on an exhaustive trek, the group took time off, only playing select venues.
DMB then returned to the studio with Lillywhite, who was the producer for "Under the Table And Dreaming," "Crash" and "Before These Crowded Streets." '12's "Away From The World" was Lillywhite's first project with the band since the ill-fated and unreleased "Lillywhite Sessions" in '00. To no one's surprise the album went straight to #1.
1994 Under The Table And Dreaming
1998 Before These Crowded Streets
2002 Busted Stuff
2005 Stand Up
2009 Big Whiskey And The GrooGrux King
2012 Away From The World
1993 Remember Two Things
1994 Recently - EP (re-released by RCA in '97)
1997 Live At Red Rocks 8.15.95
1999 Listener Supported
1999 Live At Luther College
2001 Live In Chicago 12.19.98 At The United Center
2001 Live At Folsom Field, Boulder, Colorado
2003 The Central Park Concert
2004 The Gorge
2005 Weekend On The Rocks
2007 Live At Radio City
2007 Live At Piedmont Park
2008 Live At Mile High Music Festival
2009 Europe 2009
2010 Live In Las Vegas
2010 Live In New York City
2011 Live At Wrigley Field
2011 Live In Atlantic City
DMB thrives on clever arrangements, diverse instrumentation and Matthews' unique vocal style. But the songs, written mostly by Matthews, are a major reason for the group's success.
"Under The Table And Dreaming"("Ants Marching," "The Best of What's Around" and "Pay For What You Get") and "Before These Crowded Streets" ("Don't Drink The Water," "The Dreaming Tree," "Crush" and "Stay - Wasting Time") are the Dave Matthews Band's best work. "Crash" ("Crash Into Me") which came between these two albums is also a strong effort.
Getting passed the hardcore types who love everything the band has done, analytical fans are of the opinion that the early albums were brilliant, then things slipped a bit - and that should be expected. It's impossible to be consistently dazzling - though it's good to try.
Producer Russ Ballard did his best to keep the songs on "Everyday" focused and concise. The extended jams, a DMB trademark, are kept to a minimum. The album has more energy (including electric guitars) than recent efforts but lacks unexpected twists and turns that "wow" the Matthews' faithful. "I Did It" and the edgy "When The World Ends" get things going while "The Space Between" is pure Dave Matthews. Easily it's the group's most accessible effort since the mid-90s.
"Busted Stuff" is largely a revisit (only two "new" songs) of the failed pre-"Everyday" project. The mid-tempo acoustic oriented album marks a return (retreat?) to the group's core sound. No kickin' Rock but plenty of DMB ramblings to please longtime fans and woo back the disheartened.
Often when a band's lead singer takes a solo turn the end result sounds very much like the group's CDs. This is good for the singer because he is plying a safe, successful sound and doesn't have to share the royalties with other band members. His fellow bandmates are ticked because the singer is essentially wearing out the group's welcome and they're not getting squat. Leave it to the Dave Matthews Band to put a new spin on it. Matthews took a low-key and rather unexceptional solo turn that really bore little resemblance to DMB's best work. With "Stand Up," it seems DMB is trying to develop a more cohesive take on Matthews' solo effort. Rather than rely on the group's dazzling rhythms and songs that twist and turn, there's a more basic, straight-ahead approach. The songs are acoustic, sparse; imitate at times and easy flowing. It's a great CD to put on while having dinner or reading a book. Only "Stand Up (For It)" attempts to be an anthem while the sober "American Baby" adds some grit.
If "Big Whiskey And The GrooGrux King" represents a fall-off from classic DMB, it's not much of one. The set opens with "The Grux," a haunting sax piece that acknowledges Moore's passing. Next up is the energetic "Shake Me Like A Monkey," one of the best songs DMB has ever done. It's followed by the melodic single "Funny The Way It Is" which compares well with the band's classic tracks.
"Lying In The Hands Of God" is just the type of song that marked Sting's solo career - that's not necessarily a good thing. But DMB bounces back with "Why Am I" ("still dancing with the GrooGrux King?"). They take a pop turn on "Dive In" before returning to their core sound in the free verse romp "Spaceman." Arabic touches grace "Squirm" while "Alligator Pie" has the expected Cajun stew. The album closes with a trio down-tempo songs. "Baby Blue" is the best though "You & Me" concludes the album on a hopeful note.
"Away From The World" has the upbeat "Broken Things," which works, thanks in no small part to Matthews nailing the high notes. The punchy "Rooftop" incorporates R&B while the ballad "Mercy" takes a more genuine R&B turn. "Belly Belly Nice" is 'typical' DMB while "Sweet" has Matthews, backed by a ukulele, driving straight into Eddie Vedder's solo wheelhouse.
The Dave Matthews Band has released several live albums. They possess a stellar reputation that has resulted in sold-out tours. DMB are able to stack virtuoso performances on top of each other delivering intricate solos that can transcend expectations. Their debut, the live "Remember Two Things," shows that even at this stage the group's expansive jamming capabilities are intact. "Live At Red Rocks 8.15.95," a two record set, lets the group stretch and show its chops. In '99, the group released another live set "Live At Luther College." But it's serviceable. They've done much better.
Back in the vinyl days a double live album made sense. The two discs usually ran a little more than an hour giving a group a chance to really show its chops. Playing live provides the opportunity to flesh out songs that may have been constrained by time, budget, market expectations or even label restrictions. It wasn't uncommon to hear a fan say a group sounded far better live than in the studio. Besides, playing live is a whole different experience.
But even in the "live" environment, the four disc "Live At Fenway Park, Boston MA," issued in '06, seems a bit excessive. Just because you can put out that much music doesn't necessarily mean you should. Like any extensive package there are plenty of gems but there are also unwarranted detours and flawed moments.