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The Dave Matthews Band for Dummies

Dave Matthews Band hater and apologist go head to head

By Todd Inoue and Jim Harrington

LOCAL MUSIC scribe Jim Harrington has seen more than 20 Dave Matthews Band shows in different states, clubs and amphitheaters. Metro music editor Todd Inoue would rather listen to DMX than DMB and has no clue as to why the band commands so much attention. Regardless, the Dave Matthews Band plays two nights (May 18-19) at Shoreline in support of its 2001 album, Everyday, and a forthcoming odds-and-sods collection Busted Stuff.

TI: Do you have to be on drugs to enjoy the Dave Matthews Band?

JH: No. Of course, that's purely conjecture. I can't speak from firsthand experience on that subject.

TI: Then why the hell are they so popular?

JH: Although Phish is often credited with receiving the most benefit from the death of the Grateful Dead, it is the Dave Matthews Band that actually got the biggest boost. Very few of the real Deadheads went the way of Dave after Jerry's passing. The folks who can tell one version of "China Cat Sunflower" from another stayed home and listened to their old tapes. But not the new folks on the granola scene--the ones who secretly hated the "drum" and "space" segments in concert and couldn't name a single member besides Jerry.

These were the ones who needed a different party scene after the demise of the Dead. Dave, as anyone will tell you, was way more accessible than Phish. Better a freaky South African strumming an acoustic guitar than a dress-wearing drummer who plays a vacuum cleaner on his face.

Right from his major-label debut, 1994's Under the Table and Dreaming, Dave Matthews struck upon a jam-friendly pop sound that commingles different sounds and genres. It wasn't the best jam rock out there, it wasn't the best pop rock out there, but it was the best jam pop out there.

TI: Weren't Hootie and the Blowfish or the Spin Doctors just as big? Look what happened to them.

JH: Hootie and the Spin Doctors are no longer relevant comparisons. Dave has shown true staying power. He's been a major figure on the pop scene for seven years now. Hootie and the Doctors came and went as fast as the XFL. Matthews has kept getting bigger, becoming the only act besides *NSync in recent years to play multiple nights at stadiums. Madonna, the Stones, U2, McCartney--they tour arenas.

And from the look of things, the Dave Matthews Band isn't slowing down. DMB's most recent album, Everyday, was one of the 10 biggest albums of 2001, managing that feat with very little critical fanfare or media exposure. Plus, in concert, the band's bread and butter, they remain as strong as ever. The two Shoreline shows instantly sold out.

TI: I'm scared to go because DMB attracts a certain "element." They drive SUVs, talk on cell phones, wear khaki shorts and backward baseball caps. They wear black leather jackets and Nine West shoes. It's like a bridge-and-tunnel invasion.

JH: Just think of it as a Giants game at trendy Pac Bell Park. Those people also drive SUVs, talk on cell phones, wear baseball caps and khaki shorts, etc. But the average DMB fan knows more about music than the average Giants fan knows about baseball. If you doubt that, well, it's been a long time since you've been to a Giants game.

Still nervous? Well, just like a charging hyena, raging Dave-heads can be quieted down with the use of microbrews and submarine sandwiches. Come prepared.

TI: Then isn't Dave Matthews just the 2002 version of Jimmy Buffett?

JH: Your point?

TI: You know, the music becomes secondary to the party.

JH: I've tested this theory! Going to Jimmy Buffett and not partying is indeed a rather disappointing experience. Margaritas and Coronas seem to be required listening aids. But Dave is a different story. Although some folks treat the show as secondary to the beer lines, it doesn't have to be that way. Dave's music manages to rise above the suds. Now, pass me a Sierra Nevada and my copy of Live at Red Rocks 8-15-95.

TI: But come on! Danceable acoustic guitar music? Feh! That's so bland! And DMB must have the most rhythmically challenged audience in rock!

JH: The rhythm section is probably the strongest part of the DMB equation. Ask any member, especially Dave, and he'll tell you drummer Carter Beauford is the monster of the band. And young bassist Stefan Lessard is the most underrated member of the group. As far as the acoustic guitar goes, well, have you heard the Everyday album? Dave goes electric, baby! It's like Bob Dylan at Newport, man!

And Dave's crowd is not the most rhythmically challenged audience in rock. That title still belongs to the Deadheads that attend Phil Lesh shows.

TI: So what's up with the fiddle guy? What the hell is that about?

JH: As any rock historian will tell you, there is a long history of the fiddle and violin in pop music. I'm not going to provide any examples because they are too obvious and I want to keep this piece on subject.

TI: I'll provide examples: Kansas and Charlie fucking Daniels.

JH: Boyd Tinsley carries on this fine tradition, providing perhaps the singular signature sound at a DMB show. Dave-heads love what Tinsley provides--or at the very least, they pretend they do. To put it bluntly, everybody is scared shitless of this dude. The ripped musician, who spends roughly the same amount of time pumping iron as Joey Fatone spends eating Cheetos, is like a life-size action figure. Hey! Action figures! That's a great idea! Somebody should call Dave's marketing department.

TI: Dave should give his marketing department a raise.

JH: Yeah, even for a diehard fan, it's amazing to see how Dave's career has skyrocketed over the last decade. I have a friend that used to drink at a place where Dave bartended near the University of Virginia back in the late '80s. She's perplexed with how this former beer jockey, who probably couldn't make a decent martini if his life depended on it, is now one of the biggest music stars in the world.

However, if it was all just marketing, Matthews would be long gone by now. The fact is that no other recent artist has been able to create music that appeals to as many different audiences as Dave. The hippies love him as much as yuppies do. Frat boys dig him as much as Top 40 radio listeners, even alt rock and country fans tolerate his music.

TI: "Tolerate!" Ha ha!

JH: Sure, DMB is a somewhat watered-down dose of a lot of different styles--borrowing equally from the Grateful Dead groove and Paul Simon's world-beat sounds. But as long as the result is millions of people dancing--albeit, dancing poorly--who really cares?


The Dave Matthews Band and Soulive perform May 18-19 at 7pm at the Shoreline Amphitheatre. Both shows are sold out.


What side are you on? Write letters@metronews.com.

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From the May 16-22, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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