Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Who Keeps Quoting 'Take The 'A' Train' in the Back of the Venue?

A much overdue, but no less heartfelt, recap of the Dave Matthews Band show of last week. As you'll soon read, if you didn't already live/swim through it, it poured throughout the whole concert and among the many consequences of being soaked to the bone, I was left with a cold which made writing, even about such a great occasion, unpleasant. Weekdays filled with illness and a weekend filled with adolescents in semi-formal wear and father appreciating has pushed this post to the here and now. Let's get to it.
Clearly, this show had some big shoes to fill when held up to the Randall's Island experience. For Rich the show was about redemption for a hat, and time, nearly soiled by ketchup and errant footsteps. For Jamie, it was about a first time chance to see DMB and making it a night to remember forever. For me, it was about secretly hoping that history repeated itself and that I was quick enough to outrun Rich should it come down to it. We drove separately for a reason, you know?

As mentioned above, the weather did not cooperate with the festive potential of being in the parking lot before the show. The tone in the lot was naturally pretty subdued. A pleasant subdued, but subdued. The usual crowding about cars with DMB favorites playing, a few tents, and a whole bunch of rain ponchos were present, of course. A few people were even venturing some drinking games, but largely everyone huddled in their cars or under their open trunks. I was pretty cool with the atmosphere because I'm actually not really a big believer in the traditional pre-concert buzz. With the notable exception of seeing 311 at the very same Jones Beach venue many years ago, I'm more of a couple-beers-tons-of-water-pregamer. The only real bummer is that usually you (at least I) try to mill around a bit and get to know your neighbors some, play some frisbee or some tunes etc. The rain didn't exactly make that impossible, but it made it much more desirable to kind of fall into apathy and wait for the gates to open.

Rich, Jamie, and I were, in a sense, saved from our own good time by one of Rich's co-workers at (your source for all things local and newsworthy where, contrary to what some may say, they attend every event on which they report) who was kind enough to invite the three of us over to their gathering a few spaces over. The spread they had there was one of a kind. Panninis (spelling?), sandwiches, and sushi all ordered from delis and restaurants in our area. They were more than willing to share anything and everything they had. I resisted the urge to weep openly and pig out and limited myself to a sandwich slice, some sushi (which is growing on me), and a Bluepoint IPA that I couldn't help but sip even though I had been fighting the very same cold that came back with a vengence the very next day.

In addition to being fed well, this was kind of my first occasion to spend a long period of time with an older generation of Dave fans. I admit I didn't pick their brains as much as I wish I had, but I didn't want to be the stranger who tried to dominate the conversation. With that said, I did talk to them a bit and it was great to hear about some of their experiences with the band both recently and "back in the day". One of the guys had a collection of a few live albums released about the same time as "Remember Two Things". I was pretty darn jealous, as you will not find these albums in your local FYE and you probably won't hear some of those older songs (Blue Water, for example) ever again. It was a real highlight for me just to look through those records. It was like opening up a scrapbook from a time you're too young to remember, but know all about it through secondhand stories.

With a full stomach and being out in the elements anyway, I ventured across the lot to meet with some friends from Miller Place, a couple of whom were experiencing their first Dave show. What an awesome feeling. As with a lot of bands (and I guess any) seeing them live is a whole new experience to hearing even a recording of a live show. I don't doubt they enjoyed the heck out of it and I hope they're as hooked as I am.

Anyway, the only real story to tell from the lot, other than unrivalled generosity, is an unfortunate situation that drew from me a rather piteous laugh. Rich's co-worker was beyond stoked that Fitz and the Tantrums (a name whose cleverness dawned on me later than I'd care to admit). I didn't listen in on the whole conversation, but apparently he was getting deep into those guys (a pretty interesting modern Hall and Oates sound, in my opinion) before he even knew they were opening the show he was attending. Fitz being there was kind of the whipped cream on the sundae for him and I'm not exaggerating by much when I say he was as excited to see them as Dave. Well, time goes by and... goes by and... you get the idea, and everyone is still in the parking lot. I lean over to Rich and mention that he's probably going to miss the opening act. Apparently, no one in his party was ready to leave the good time yet and he wound up missing out of the show he lucked out in getting the chance to see (for free, if you think about it). I wish I had a better follow up on his reaction, but I can only imagine he felt pretty bad, at least in hindsight. When I realized what happened to him, I took it harder than I probably should have. Poor guy.

The show itself was simply great. The set list, on paper, is kind of out of a dream. For the audience's part, the venue doesn't have a lawn setting, so there were only pockets of people standing up in true DMB show fashion. That's always a struggle in that venue. I remember being, quite possibly, the only two people standing at the Who show I went to see the Beard, but I also remember everyone seeming to be on their feet for Phish at the same venue years later. Anyway, the sit down venue made the crowd energy scattered, but definitely present. However, the venue coupled with the constant drenching did make the energy tough to keep up. The band, Jamie, Rich, and I did our part, though, and the band played high energy numbers while the three of us kept moving in the nosebleeds.

The band kind of has a whole new sound. I mean, the sound always seems to be tweaked with every new tour, especially as new faces enter (Tim, Jeff, Rashawn) and old ones leave (Butch and sadly, Roi), but this is the first incarnation of the band that I would almost say is a whole new band covering Dave songs.

The elements of improvisation are definitely still there. Jeff and Rashawn traded fours on Grey Street, Jeff killed You Never Know, and Boyd and Tim were, as always, ever present while Carter smiled above them like some omnipotent bus driver with a recently emptied bathroom, but the songs were almost condensed for the most part. For example, #41 was played without a single horn solo, and there was no reference from Dave or crowd alike to #36 during Everyday. That alone signals a change in philosophy, in my mind. The band has really taken to heart the idea of a horn "section" as they were present in nearly every song and the band kind of has a sound that's easier to define at this point. It's kind of a rock band with horns and a violin that can jam out when they want. This feels like a natural evolution that you had to expect at some point (Phish kind of does the same thing right now), but this band has become a beast that has a whole new sound and as a result, genuinely sounds tighter than ever. My notes are not meant to be a negative, and the difference between DMB of 2011 and DMB of 2012 is not night and day by any means, but the band has clearly underwent some changes in mentality, I'd like to think for the better, but no Jeff on #41 (as incredible as Tim was) was as close to a disappointment that this band has given me live.

I mean, musically, I feel like I could scribe a whole new post. This section may bore some, so I'll be brief and if you want to hear more, you can definitely ask.

1. Seven into Minarets into Grey Street to START. Good Lord, you knew that band was going to try to make up for the nasty weather and keep them engaged in a big way. I was shocked to hear Minarets live; a first for me to witness and even hear. I only have the studio cut and an acoustic version on my pod. With those three songs, I considered my ticket worth the price. Grey Street, Sweet, and the never played Trouble With You were the only songs I was dying for. Thrilled I got one out of the deal. Real edge to the sound.

2. Mercy was the only track from the anticipated album they played and a great cool down after Cornbread. This is one song I'm glad they didn't cut short and the band riffed enough to stretch it to about the 6 minute mark. A lot of layers to the song that I feel I dug more in the rain. Dave pulled a Neil Young going from guitar to piano mid-song. Really tight unified sound. Gives you a sense where the band is heading, and I like it.

3. Don't Drink the Water mid-show, not unheard of, but a first for me. Cool.

4. Everyday- pretty straight-forward. Boyd definitely did his thing, don't get me wrong, but Dave was kind of full speed ahead and I didn't hear the crowd engaging in any "Honey, honey". Likely the most underwhelming, but solid versions of the song I've heard. Last time they played this song in the New York area, Vusi Mahlasela came out and sang some. Maybe I got my hopes up and that's influencing my opinion. I should note that this is the first song where I really started picking up on the new condensed sound I was talking about.

5. Stay or Leave-Another perfectly timed mellow song. Hit the spot. I love when they give you a song you didn't even know you craved so bad.

6. After #41 I was literally wondering if Jeff was under the weather or something. You Never Know quashed that theory and Jeff totally went nuts. A real old fashioned jam session. The crowd was never more involved, in my opinion. To an unbiased listener, probably the best track of the night overall. My favorite was Grey Street and Minarets followed by this track, but I'm far from unbiased.

7. Crush-Awesome sound and always great to hear Fonz open that up on the bass. Again, more of a horn section with Boyd taking the lead, for better or worse. A song that showed how much you can take Carter's brilliance on the skins for granted. Awesome, though. Proof that "condensed" is not synonymous with "bad".

8. Rapunzel-Might be my favorite live track of theirs of all time. Love how the wheels fall off the jam for that darker section only to come back and party hard in the end. This is one song where there are never any words for. Hear it. Love it. Get more of it.

9. Great encore with Granny to lead off. Always have a soft spot for this song since the first time I heard it on Listener Supported. Band cut right to the chase. Great song and great rendition. Watchtower (which some fans who take themselves too seriously said was the saving grace of the show) really was a great way to cap the night. Fonz quoted Tool's Schism in his intro solo... enough said. The energy is always high for that. Love having Tim there to really be that bridge between Hendrix did and what Dave does with it. Dylan wrote a hell of a song.

On a non-musical note, I have started putting pen to pad on the sequel to Horseplay. Really excited about it and I think the first three of the series are going to come pretty naturally and hopefully quickly. The four others I have outlined, we'll see, but bottom line, it's great to be working with these characters again and this may well be the first anticipated release of my writing career.

Song of the Day: She Love Me So-Anthony Green
Jazz Song of the Day: The Power of Water-Orchestre National de Jazz

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