, Research Paper
26 March 1999
Dave Matthews Band: Their Success and Their Music
Who is the Dave Matthews Band? Five years ago that question would have gotten nothing more than a weird stare and a stupid look. But today you would get everything but that. The Dave Matthews Band is one of the most successful bands of the late 20th century. But many ask how a band so new has become so successful in such a relatively short period of time. Many come to wonder if it was their music, their look, or possibly something else that has made the Dave Matthews Band what they are today. It is my opinion that the Dave Matthews Band’s success comes from their earth-toned acoustical music, their buttoned flannel shirts and their khaki pants, their heart-laced lyrics, and the need for many Jerry Garcia “Dead Head” survivors to find a new musical connection to life.
Using the Official Dave Matthews Web Page (http://dmband.com) as a reference tool, I found that the life of the Dave Matthews Band saga begins early in 1991.Dave Matthews decided to put the songs he’d been writing on tape. But rather than recording just his voice and guitar, he decided to gather some other musicians to give the project a fuller sound. Carter Beauford, Leroi Moore, Stefan Lessard, and Boyd Tinsley teamed with Dave Matthews and became the Dave Matthews Band. After several rehearsals in basements, they were ready to play in public. The first gig was May 11, 1991 at a party on the roof of an apartment building in Charlottesville. About 40 people were in attendance that night. Their first open-to-the-public performance was at the 1991 Earth Day Festival on Charlottesville, Virginia’s Downtown Mall. That exposure led to regular Tuesday night gigs at a small restaurant called Eastern Standard. Before long, the largest music club in town had them playing Tuesday night gigs filling the club to capacity with locals and University of Virginia students week after week. As word spread, the band was playing three- four- five- night tours around the region. As the band’s success began to exfoliate, the first album named Remember Two Things was released in August of 1993, shortly followed by Recently released in February of 1994. With 1994 proving to be a big year for the Dave Matthews Band, Under the Table and Dreaming was released on September 27th. This major release is what really made the bands elegant acoustical sound known throughout the United States and Europe (26 March 1999).
By this point, many wonder what is next for the Dave Matthews Band. Their audience was growing, but they still didn’t have a following that rivaled bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish. But nobody could have predicted what 1995 would bring, both good and bad. Dave Matthews Band (DMB) opened two shows for the Grateful Dead at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas. Some believe this show was priceless and “one in a million” for the Dave Matthews Band (Pepper). Many of the reasons this show was so important had to do with the attention Dave Matthews Band got from the Grateful Dead’s audience. This proved to be an overwhelming significance when the Dead encountered the death of Jerry Garcia later on in the 1995 year. The Grateful Dead had an incredible amount of fans. “The band attracted a cult following in live performances by playing without set lists (lists of songs) in a free improvised format shaped in part by audience rapport” (Garcia). All the “Grateful Dead” fans, better known as “Dead Heads” loved the acoustic sound Garcia provided for the band, and with the newly created vibe of Dave Matthews Band, the transition was an easy one to make. Thus, many of the “Dead Heads” are now faithful followers of the DMB, and many now use Dave Matthews Band as a new musical connection to life.
But the death of Jerry Garcia and the flock of newly dedicated fans weren’t the only reasons for popularity for the Dave Matthews Band. The sound, the feeling of the music that Dave Matthews Band creates, makes for their own following, like no other before. As David E. Thigpen, author, Time magazine puts it:
The DMB offers an alternative to alternative rock: music that is conspicuously eclectic but plainly rooted in the familiar bedrock of Americana, the blues and jazz. By introducing acoustic guitars and shifting tempos punctuated by violins, penny whistles and other flourishes of world music and jazz, the band has forged a cerebral yet commercially appealing sound, surpassing competitors like Phish. (Thigpen)
After the release of Under the Table and Dreaming came the album Crash, which involved various artists such as Bela Fleck & the Flecktones and Los Lobos. But their most recent and best studio recording effort by a landslide is Before These Crowded Streets. Instrumentally, the band is joined by interesting guests such as Bela Fleck that is known to “…decorate the record with his saw-toothed banjo…” (Gulla). Kronos Quartet and Alanis Morisette show up on several songs and sing background vocals on “Spoon”. Before long, the Dave Matthews Band not only attracts their own audience, but they reveal that rather than being content with their considerable fan base, they reach out to new styles, new ideas, and best of all new fans (Gulla).
Though their music is powerful indeed, what’s in the music is as so ever powerful. Lyrics are the heart of any music, whether they are sung, yelled, or mumbled. The Dave Matthews Band is definitely one to talk when it comes to lyrics. In hearing any of his lyrics from all the way back to his first album, right up to his current hit with Before These Crowded Streets. All of the Dave Matthews Band songs have what many would call “heart and soul” to them. Take for instance “I Let You Down”:
…I let you down; How could I be such a fool like me; Tail between my legs; I’m a puppy for your love; I’m a puppy for your love; I have no lid upon my head; But if I did; You could look inside and see what’s on my mind; oh it’s you…
Line by line, Dave Matthews Band goers find themselves breathless is awe of the words that come from Dave’s mouth. In “I Let You Down”, Dave is singing about how he had done something that let supposedly somebody down by, and he is so upset he tries to show his sorrow and his want to reconcile his wrong doing. But the helpless of his music propels you into his world so you can feel his pain.
Many well known magazines also have good things to say about Dave Matthews Band’s lyrical approach, “he (Dave Matthews) conjures optimism in a world beset by environmental depredation, political paralysis, self-doubt, and hopelessness” (Thigpen). Meanwhile Dave Matthew’s describes his songs as “therapy, an effort to help his listeners cope with society, where racism is absolutely alive” (Sheffield).
There’s something else about the Dave Matthews Band that propels so many to want to see every show that they play. Maybe it’s because whenever the band is seen they wear anything but exactly what one of the newest and most popular alternative bands would wear; Khaki pants, flannel shirts, hemp necklaces, and an occasional baseball cap. This helps create the well known “laid back” style of the band onstage as well as off. But quite possibly it’s the way they “seem more like a jazz combo than a rock band ” (Thigpen). Robin Bresnark, from Melody Maker says:
Their musical style is very natural, full of blues and jazz from introduction of acoustic guitars and shifting tempos punctuated by violins, penny whistles, and other flourishes of would music and jazz. Onstage the five band members seem more like a jazz combo, playing tightly coordinated phrases then suddenly veering off into flights of improvision. (Bresnark)
In conclusion, the Dave Matthews Band is nothing short than incredible. By projecting a very laid back and functional attitude, with a very open musical style, the band will continue to top the billboard charts for years to come. Dave Matthews’ musical style will live forever, and I am sure that Jerry Garcia is very happy knowing that his following is now sleeping in line for hard to get tickets to every show Dave Matthews Band plays. Talent flourishes in the band, and for anyone who has any of their CD’s, you’ll know that their live music is incredibly spontaneous. But one thing is for sure, this band will be releasing albums for years to come; and it’s nice to hear music that is not filled with hate or violence, but filled with heart and soul lyrics, and a non-violent tone.
Bresnark, Robin. “The Dave Matthew Band gives us a guided tour of Washington DC.” Melody Maker Aug 8, 1998.
Bresnark, Robin. “Unfinished Monk Business” Melody Maker Jun 27, 1998.
Garcia, Jerry. “Jerry Garcia.” Encyclopedia Encarta. 1998 Ed.
Gulla, Bob. “Before These Crowded Streets.” Audio Aug 1998.
Pepper, Tracey. “Dave Matthews Band” US Jun 1998
Sheffield, Rob. “Stunt/Before These Crowded Streets.” Rolling Stone Dec 24, 1998-Jan 7, 1999.
The Dave’s Matthews Band: the official Web Site. (1991-1997) http://dmband.com
Thigpen, David E. “Shelter in the storm” Time Aug 3, 1998.