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This article by Randy Alexander was prepared for the July 10, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Dave Matthews Makes a Three-Night Stand

Three shows at the Tweeter Center. In a summer in which

The Who, Aerosmith, Ozzfest, Alecia Keys, Eminem are all playing South

Jersey’s 25,000-seat open-air concrete playground, only the Dave Matthews

Band is scheduled to fill the joint for three consecutive nights.

And the three-night engagement — July 16, 17, and 18 with flavor-of-the-month

Norah Jones opening — is fast approaching the sellout mark.

Not too shabby — particularly when you consider the DMB just played

a two-nighter across the river in the spring at the First Union Center.

Indeed, the Dave Matthews Band is a live-music juggernaut — ranked

in each of the past four years by industry trade journal Pollstar

among the four top-grossing concert tours in North America. Last year,

the Virginia-based quintet drew 1.3 million concertgoers who shelled

out a combined $60.5 million in ticket sales. That averages to around

$46, relatively modest in today’s conglomerate-driven marketplace.

Add to that the 24 million albums sold by the DMB since 1993 —

all without any tremendous radio success — and it could keep you

head scratching for the rest of the summer concert season.

"Their music flies in the face of the current music industry trend,"

notes veteran South Jersey rock critic Chuck Darrow. "It’s not

R&B, it’s not hip-hop, and it’s not frat-boy rock. If anything, it’s

closer to classic rock because of its emphasis on musicianship. I

can’t figure it out. And if Dave Matthews is so big, why hasn’t the

next Dave Matthews come along by now? That’s the weirdest part."

For the Dave Matthews Band, doing three nights at the Tweeter Center

is akin a little more than one night in the stadium.

Ho-hum.

Indeed, it’s by choice — not demand — that the DMB passed

over stadiums this summer. No other band has gone out summer after

summer and filled stadiums as consistently as the Dave Matthews Band

since the mid-’90s.

Back then, the Dave Matthews Band had been suddenly thrust to One-of-the-World’s-Biggest-Rock-Band

status, finding itself headlining what was then a rare, yet immensely

successful date at sold-out Giants Stadium in the spring of 1996,

and then went off to Europe to open for the Rolling Stones as a stadium

opener the rest of the summer. Cementing the enormity of it all, this

unassuming, yet intricately textured jam band had risen in time to

knock the Celine Dion-fueled "Titanic" soundtrack off its

16-week perch at the top of Billboard’s album chart with the No. 1

debut of the DMB’s third RCA album, "Before These Crowded Streets."

But not before hosting a pair of sold-out evenings at the Tweeter

(then known as the E-Centre), where it had done a single night the

previous summer. By the end of 1996, the DMB had released "Crash,"

to date its biggest-selling album at 7 million strong.

Part of the reason Dave Matthews Band shows have so handily sold out

for so long is the exploding grass roots legion that has been brilliantly

nurtured for a decade. "Matt Heads" continue to follow the

band from town to town, not only confirming that the band never plays

the same set twice, but likely having little trouble quoting set list

minutia, such as the date a particular song was last played. (Sound

familiar, Dead Heads?)

Indeed much of them should already be well-versed in material from

"Busted Stuff," the band’s fifth studio record, due for release

July 16. Meantime, the Dave Matthews Band continues tour in support

of "Everyday," an album that finds the band recast as an electric

powerhouse with an even more confident and cohesive sound, bolstered

by producer Glen Ballard (Alanis Morrisette, Aerosmith, No Doubt).

The Dave Matthews Band originally had a hard time grappling with being

quickly thrust to the top of the enormously popular, ever-more-pop-sounding

American roots rock movement.

"When we were playing in fraternity houses and clubs, the audience

was jamming so hard at our shows," remembers bass player Stefan

Lessard. "Sometimes at bigger shows, it’s harder to get that feeling.

That’s the only thing that gets to me. And I feel like it’s harder

to give out the same energy than in a club. But there are times I

have, and you can throw it back into the audience, and the audience

is then throwing it back to you."

The Dave Matthews Band is more acoustic-based than most of its roots

rock kin. They lean toward a global groove cut by the bass-drum tandem

of Lessard and Carter Beauford and enhanced by the counter melodies

of Boyd Tinsley’s violin and Leroi Moore’s sax, clarinet and flute.

Undercutting but never overpowering it all is the comforting but limited

vocals of Matthews himself.

It’s a volatile combination among critics, many of whom

either love the Dave Matthews Band or absolutely loathe them for their

unassuming sameness and slight goofiness.

"Goofy can be good," says Lessard. "Think of how much

Walt Disney has made with Goofy. Music can be goofy as long as it’s

true. It’s true goofiness.

"We’ve just been playing a lot and our songs have been really

taking shape and changing. But as a band, we’ve grown together. .

. Individually, we really get to play off each other. We know a little

more what we’ll be doing on stage and everybody keeps up with each

other a little better. It takes a little while to grow, but we’re

always growing. But if we’re getting worse, we don’t want to be playing

anymore."

The flavor of "Everyday’s" material finds Matthews playing

electric guitars on an album for the first time, including a Jerry

Jones baritone guitar on several tracks. Lessard experiments with

different bass guitars, including one made of wood from a ship that

spent 200 years at the bottom of Lake Superior. Moore plays flute

and contrabass clarinet in addition to his usual duties on baritone,

alto and tenor sax. Tinsley uses a wah-wah pedal to alter his violin

tone on some tracks, giving the instrument a new and barely recognizable

tone. And Tinsley and Moore join drummer Carter Beauford on backing

vocals for the first time.

"Everyday" reveals a more aggressive, focused Dave Matthews

Band with intricate orchestrations and more precise playing, rocking

harder than ever. Still, the Dave Matthews Band retains its trademark

positive, fun-loving energy, with lyrics that continue to emphasize

the joy of living and loving through the seemingly effortless virtuosity

of the five band members.

The Dave Matthews stage show is about a welcome return in rock to

complex musicianship with tremendous respect for that American art

form called jazz. As a front man, Matthews still isn’t terribly exciting.

But his showmanship has become more commanding in the past year, even

if he does seem to spend too much of his give-and-take relating to

in-the-know concertgoers instead of newcomers to the flock. How else

to explain the on-stage gibberish that passes for between-song banter?

Gibberish aside, expect every note to ring clear through the night

air. For over two hours, Matthews and his band mates traded polyrhythmic

jams and solos on a melange of instruments, delivered with subtle

flourishes and generally understated mastery. And when the band cuts

loose, the collective firepower of its instrumental parts sizzle.

Tinsley and Moore usually provide most of the on-stage muscle.

In concert, Dave Matthews Band songs don’t simply start. They unfold

and evolve, without ever letting the audience know quite where they’ll

end up. This is music that breathes to expose atypical possibilities.

The jams don’t always scorch, but they don’t always have to. It’s

the freshness and execution that matters most. And in well-paced shows

such as theirs, the Dave Matthews Band allow that finesse can be a

band’s most embracing and durable trait.

— Randy Alexander

Dave Matthews Band, Tweeter Center, 1 Harbour Boulevard,

Camden, 609-520-8383, 856-338-9000. $31.50 & $46.50. Tuesday, July

16, Wednesday, July 17, and Thursday, July 18, 7 p.m.


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