Corrections or additions?
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.
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
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
Camden, 609-520-8383, 856-338-9000. $31.50 & $46.50. Tuesday, July
16, Wednesday, July 17, and Thursday, July 18, 7 p.m.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.