Sunday, September 27, 2009

Where Have You Gone Dave Matthews?

I love live music. I went to my first concert when I was 11 years old and I have been addicted ever since. I have seen 100+ live acts in my 33 years and plan to see plenty more in my lifetime. This past week I saw The Dave Matthews Band for the sixth time. I hate to say it, but I think I have outgrown this band.

I became a fan of The Dave Matthews Band (DMB) in 1994, when they released Under the Table and Dreaming, their first major studio album. When I saw them for the first time in January 1995, it was a life-altering event for me. It is the first concert that I can remember where every song, every note, everything was perfect. Even the crowd, which can often ruin an otherwise great concert, was perfect. The next three shows were very similar to this show: enthusiastic but respectful fans, great sets, great atmosphere.

People started referring to DMB as the new Grateful Dead because of the cult following that they elicited. I wasn't one of those fans who followed the band from town to town but I had every album and listened to them constantly. I prided myself on being one of the fans who had been around since the early years before MTV and pop radio started playing them in heavy rotation.

My fifth concert experience in 2004 was pretty miserable. The crowd was very young, mainly teenagers and college kids but also plenty of pre-teens there. I was almost 28 at the time and felt like a senior citizen. DMB only played a couple of their upbeat hits that night. The set primarily consisted of extended versions of some of their slower hits and newer, more obscure songs. Goodbye brilliant musicianship, hello endless jam sessions with little to no melody. But the crowd of high teenagers loved it. They weren't there for the music, they were there to do drugs, hook up and be seen. The lack of crowd sing-a-long at this show was kind of eerie compared to the earlier shows.

DMB albums started to turn south at this point as well. It seemed like the band, like most of pop culture, started to cater to the tween to teen generation of kids. The music became simpler and less unique. The concerts were merely background music for the live after school special playing out at the shows. But of course, this is when they received the most critical acclaim. Everyone and their mother became a DMB fan at this point.

I didn't buy the next few DMB albums. What I heard on the radio didn't inspire anything and barely resembled the band that I had fallen in love with a decade ago. When the newest album, Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, came out earlier this year it seemed like the old DMB was coming back. Musically this album sounds like the old DMB. The music is good again and the lyrics are more thoughtful and less pop. My husband had never seen them before so I decided to check out the band on their latest tour.

We bought lawn seats to the show this year. I had stadium seating right in the middle of 90210 at the 2004 show and it sucked. At least on the lawn we could distance ourselves from the rowdy, high, drunk, rude teenagers that were there to put on a show and not witness one. We were happy when we found a lot of people just like us (music lovers that weren't trashed or 12) near the back of the lawn area. There was plenty of ridiculous behavior in front of us but we were able to distance ourselves from it and have a good time.

While this show was much better than the 2004 show it was no where near the epic experiences of the earlier shows. They played a few of their upbeat hits but once again seemed to focus heavily on the slow, dirge-like songs. While their new album is good, playing almost every song from that album consecutively rather than mixing them in with older hits was a mistake. They lost the crowd for several songs at a time. A lot of the people at the show didn't seem to know there was a concert going on. These people were having very loud conversations with each other and on their cell phones. There were walking around, sending text messages, laying on the grass making out or dancing manically to the drug-induced hippie beat in their head whether or not music was playing or not.

My husband and I left early on in the encore to avoid traffic. People had started leaving in significant numbers 30 minutes or so before we left and a lot of people left at the same time that we did. DMB started to play some of their classic hits during the encore but by then we had our fill. Sitting through 2 hours of mediocre music to get to the good stuff if just unacceptable.

Of course the band didn't notice the droves of people who left early because all they could see were the crowds of trashed teenagers pushed up close to the stage. These people "danced" non-stop and screamed every time a new song started. The band couldn't see the back rows of the reserved seating or the big empty spaces in the lawn. If you check out Live Nation or some of the other concert websites you will see glowing reviews of how great the concert was and how DMB is the best band around. These reviews were written by the teenagers.

So while I feel like I can be a fan of DMB again, I doubt I will go to another concert. They are catering to a different group of people and I don't really want to hang out in that group. DMB now joins Counting Crows, another band that puts out brilliant studio albums but is horrible in concert, as a band that I must love from afar. If you like jam bands that will turn a 5 minute song into a 30 minute opus to mediocrity then you should go get tickets to the show. Otherwise, save your money and enjoy the music at home.

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1 comment:

  1. Three dog night also sucks in concert, I didn't like Santana till that night but they truly put on a show, the opposite of TDN. OK I'm OLD!! LOL