Friday, August 19, 2005


AOL Music Live, Roseland Ballroom, New York, 5/9/05




Though some may deem it heresy, I have never been one to sit vigilantly by the DMB website itching for news of their next show, ready to pounce the moment their tix went on sale. I’ve never owned a DMB album, nor have I jumped at the chance to join when friends asked "Who's in for tix to the DMB show at Wherever Pavilion?" But let me now go on record and say that, going forward, I may have to reconsider my position. 


While bands like Coldplay and Radiohead are about creating soundscapes that express their introspection, and those like Green Day are about a rowdy connection with the crowd, DMB are about conversation. And their language? The unspoken, almost telepathic vocabulary of music. I’m talking about the mythical, mystical state of being "in the groove." 


Though many bands with a rapport are capable of creating a vibe, "the groove" is the particular domain of The Jam Band. Much maligned by those who can't dig the vibe and those with short attention spans, The Jam Band specializes in musicalconversations in a regional dialect known as Improvisation.


Like listening to native speakers of Italian and French, conversational music is a romance language. 


What wooed me? The way Dave Matthews Band embarks on its familiar subject matter, while still finding new things to say. It's like watching old friends or great comedians riff off each other, cracking each other up, egging each other on, taking it one notch higher, breaking it down again. One big, communal eavesdropper, the audience is Dave's little brother sitting in the backseat, laughing along. 


It’s clear that Dave is a generous musician who still gets his kicks listening to his own band-mates play. He gives each one their turn to plead their case, monologue, or crack their jokes in the spotlight for some crazy solo over a kickin’ jam. You’ll never see him interrupt before they’ve said what they came to say. 


And what musical conversationalists he's gathered around himself. Where else will you hear a fiddle like that of Boyd Tinsley, an indelible part of DMB's trademark sound? The eclecticism of Carter Beauford’s percussion, circling him nearly 360 degrees, provides both backbone and spice with remarkable finesse. A drummer standing out and announcing himself with an identifiable sound of his own is really refreshing these days. With saxophones from baritone to soprano, LeRoi Moore evidences impressive range, moving the music along like a freight train, laying down a moody melody, or riffing like a jazz master. My weakness being bass, I was thrilled to see Stefan Lessard switch from four-string to five and six-strings, which always add real meat to the bones. Then to my personal favorite, the fretless, which swerved seamlessly from the sound of a stand-up to a bendy, funk slow jam that hit the spot. Boys and their toys, as the old band saying goes. Meanwhile, Dave remained monogamous, staying true to his trusty acoustic the whole night long.


Considering the lengths to which members of the Warehouse, DMB's famously feverish fan club, went to secure tickets to this private concert held by AOL Music Live, I should have been branded a heretic once I got one foot in the door. I began the evening a non-believer, challenging DMB to convert me. And now, after a nearly 4 hour show on the crowded, general admission floor of NYC’s Roseland Ballroom, I find myself a believer. After years hearing how "amazing" DMB are live, I’ve seen it for myself. And I’m here to testify… their word was the gospel truth. 


The High Notes

Set Standouts


One Sweet World – This was one interesting time signature. It's a testament to the feel-good grooves Dave creates that such a huge crowd got swept up by some complicated musicality. Perhaps because he never made it sound complicated. With a Cheshire Cat grin, Dave broke into some off-the-wall scatting, giving us a glimpse of the prankster within. He's out of his tree.


Stone – Leveraging the piano/bass/guitar trifecta to move it along with a driving undercurrent of tension, the ominous baritone sax almost sounded like a tuba or a foghorn. Gotta love artful dynamics that really set a mood like the one in this euphoria-inducing tune. Dave & Co. were particularly impressed with how attuned their crowd were as we began singing Elvis' chorus, "I can't help falling in love with you," over the most subtle of segues. Facing the drums, Dave pointed over his shoulder at the crowd as Carter applauded us for catching on to their inside joke.


Two Step – I'm a sucker for this song, with its seriously singable melody and Carter's rat-a-tat-tat drum backbone sounding like a marching band on jazz drugs. The jamming really hit its stride, featuring a monstrous solo by the keyboardist, which brought down the house and garnered enthusiastic whoops of approval from Dave. It seemed we were witnessing something special, out of the ordinary, right up to Carter's galloping, runaway train of an ending. 


Ants Marching – Boyd had a truly transcendent moment on the fiddle solo. This was one of my faves, with it's beautiful melody. Knowing their massive catalogue of hits backwards and forwards enables DMB to really tailor each gig's setlist, moving the audience in whatever direction their whim dictates. And what a luxury to always have an audience this pliable.


Everyday – I loved what Boyd did with an odd bow and wah-wah pedal combo -- a highly original sound. And I blush to admit that kicking into the chorus made me spontaneously break into the eyes-closed hippie dance. Not since early 90s Phish shows have I broken out those moves. Egads. As the crowd sings the chorus, Dave ad libs a harmony over it, almost like a round. It must be a treat to be your own backup singer every once in a while. Dave's rapport, both withhis band and with the audience, is undeniable. 


-Ames Friedman


Watch: More Dave Matthews Band Videos

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