Just in case the world needed a reminder, the Dave Matthews Band can still kill it on stage.
It’s just too bad that it took tragedy to remind them how to bring it.
A few nights ago, the band took the stage at the Beacon Theatre, and in front of a sold out crowd and tens of thousands of fans watching around the world via the live, televised broadcast, they unleashed Dave Matthews Band 2.0 upon the masses.
I’ll admit, as "uncool" as it may be, I’m a Dave Matthews Band fan. They hit the big time while I was in my teens, and Remember Two Things and Under The Table And Dreaming were the soundtracks for many a teen night. But, somewhere along the way – right about the time that their songs started to saturate the airwaves – it became a faux pas to admit you were a fan of the band, despite the fact that they came from the same group of bands who spawned the current jamband movement, the HORDE tour of the early 90s.
Blues Traveler founded the HORDE tour in 1992, and as far as success, they had their moment. "Hook" and "Runaround" were hits, but they never found that spark again. The music they’ve made since is certainly respectable, but since bassist Bobby Sheehan passed away, it’s been a different band. Their last few tours have been more nostalgia acts, playing alongside the likes of Collective Soul, Live, and Fastball. It just seems like the world has kind of forgotten about Blues Traveler. But, that’s neither here nor there.
In the summer of 1993, the Dave Matthews Band took to the road on the HORDE tour alongside bands like Phish, the Aquarium Rescue Unit, Widespread Panic, and Blues Traveler. Back then, they were cut from the same mold, busting ass from city to city, playing dingy clubs, paying their dues just like the others. Then, somehow, Dave Matthews Band found itself swimming in the mainstream. After finding success and getting significant radio play, all the preppy kids started singing along. The band’s cult status had faded and early fans crawled back underground, searching for the next “it” group.
Never mind that Matthews and his bandmates write catchy tunes, albeit ones that may lean more towards pop. Never mind that drummer Carter Beauford can stand up next to about 99% of drummers out there. And, forget about the fact that, when they’re really grooving, they’re a finely-tuned machine. Sure, Dave Matthews’ voice may annoy you (a common gripe). Sure, they may not have had a guitarist that can bust out a spine-shattering guitar solo that brings you to your knees.
If you liked them before, it just wasn’t hip to admit it once they started playing football stadiums.
There’s an irony in the fact that once a band succeeds, it’s not cool to like them any more. I guess it’s because there’s a certain sense of coolness in knowing that small, underground act. I’m definitely guilty of it on occasion.
But, while I’m not in a band, I’m pretty sure it’s a safe bet that most bands would rather drive around in a tour bus than an 16-passenger van. They’d rather be able to pop a DVD in their fancy entertainment unit while they lie on a couch on those long trips from Norfolk, VA to Des Moines, IA with a driver to take them to the next tour stop.
That just sounds better than the alternative, when they take turns driving through the pitch black of 3 AM after a late load-out, desperately trying to pick up the next strong FM radio signal in the middle of nowhere because the CD player in the busted out old van is broken.
If I ever join a band, I’d rather have the cushier transportation. I’d rather sleep in the nicer hotel room and have more reliable equipment. I’d rather not eat fast food three times a day. If that means I have to sell out, well, so be it.
But maybe that’s just me.
For the fans, though, "selling out" is a potential death knoll, and for the Dave Matthews Band, that bell rang somewhere around the late 90s. They started making hit singles, graduataing to bigger venues, and losing their original fan base.
Then, last summer, everything changed.
On June 28, in Bristow, Virginia, LeRoi Moore played his last show.
Two days later, he was in an ATV accident, and on August 19, 2008, he passed away due to complications.
In his stead, the band carried on, with Flecktone Jeff Coffin taking his place on saxophone; he’d soon join the band full-time.
I had a chance to see the "new" line-up, with guitarist and frequent collaborator Tim Reynolds, when they played AutoZone Park here in Memphis last August, a few weeks prior to Moore’s death. The specter of the then-ailing saxophonist hung heavy over the show, but there was tempered excitement about the music that the band was making.
It had been years since I’d seen the band live. At some point, probably early in college, I transitioned into one of those closeted DMB fans. But, as I read message board reports of their 2008 tour with Reynolds and Coffin, I was intrigued. After all, if the message board Widespread Panic fans – who tend to be the most vicious and opinionated of them all – could get behind what the Dave Matthews Band was doing, then there must be something to it, right?
Well, simply put, I was impressed. This Dave Matthews Band was different. The great things about the former line-up were there, augmented by some shiny new parts. This band was really, really tight; it took no time at all for Coffin to find his footing alongside relative newcomer Rashawn Ross (Soulive) on trumpet, and Tim Reynolds has always been a bad-ass guitarist.
The evidence was even more clear Monday night as I watched the Fuse broadcast of the Beacon show. They were on fire. The new songs were great, and the old songs seemed like they had new life. It is like the band has found a second gear, one long forgotten.
In a CBS interview with Dave Matthews broadcast over the weekend, the frontman stated how not too long ago he had written a letter to the band members, stating he’d had enough, and it was time to call it quits. That it just "wasn’t fun."
If the other night’s concert (and frankly, as I hear, the entire last tour) proved anything, it’s that the band is having fun. It’s just a shame that Leroi Moore had to pass away for the rest of us to see that.
It speaks volumes, though, for what the band has in them. Maybe they’re doing it FOR Leroi. He was definitely present, in spirit last night. Many bands crumble under similar circumstances. In many ways, Blues Traveler never recovered from the loss of Sheehan.
The Dave Matthews Band’s new album, Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, was released yesterday. For the first time a decade, I was pretty excited to buy a new Dave Matthews Band record, and many other long-time fans who have jumped off the bandwagon apparently felt the same way.
You know what? The record, like their live show, is great. The songs resonate strength in the face of adversity. From the opening song, "Grux," which is merely a few bars of Leroi’s solumn saxophone, to the first single, "Funny The Way It Is," to my favorite thus far, "Alligator Pie," it’s an extremely listenable, and more importantly, enjoyable disc.
Sp, to the rest of you who are still closeted, it’s OK. You can come out now.