The year was 1998. I was 16 years old, and though my music taste erred more on the side of punk and metal, there were a series of holes that allowed for the jam universe to sneak in. I was still a few months away from being eyeball-deep in Phish bootlegs, but I had already embraced the Dick’s Picks series of Grateful Dead live tapes, and I had also become an enthusiastic follower of Dave Matthews Band. I had never thought much of the songs DMB managed to get on the radio (they seemed like a slightly funkier Hootie and the Blowfish to me at the time), but a friend had put me on to their already-vast well of live shows, which allowed for a lot of exploration and fusion jams.
I went to my first DMB show in 1998 at the Meadows Music Theater in Hartford, Connecticut. The band had just released Before These Crowded Streets, an album that was at times much darker and more complicated than anything they had done before (though I hated the single “Don’t Drink the Water,” a stance on which I later softened). The show was killer, as they blew through some great tunes from the new album as well as older stuff that had morphed into far more interesting iterations than their recorded versions would suggest (this was especially true of the gorgeous, ever-evolving “Seek Up”).
I became a regular at DMB shows, hitting up the Hartford shows every summer (they usually did two or three at a time) and trading recordings online (and this was in the pre-high speed era, which meant that I actually traded tapes and CDs via the U.S. mail, a practice that now seems utterly absurd). But somewhere along the line, I drifted away from the Dave Matthews Band. I became less and less interested in their studio albums and found that the shows had become more and more unruly (a strange development for a band that was usually so laid back). In general, my tastes simply shifted (this was around 2001; I also stopped listening to Phish and the Dead around the same time). On Tuesday, the band released their umpteenth official live recording Live in New York City, which captures a show at Citi Field in New York from only a few months ago. On a whim, I decided to give it a spin and see if they still had the magic. After all, how could something I was once so devoted to be all that alien to me now?
Yes and no. The set contained within Live in New York City is heavy on songs from the era when I last listened, and a lot of the jamming still sounds strong (even without late member LeRoi Moore). I found that I still love the songs I used to love (I had forgotten how lovely a song “The Stone” is) and was amazed that I still recognized the “Dixie Chicken” reference at the end of “Crash Into Me.” But the stuff that drove me away was still there: I still have no use for “Stay (Wasting Time)” (which is apparently still one of the band’s signature songs) and nine minutes of “Warehouse” is still eight minutes too many of “Warehouse.” But hey, “Ants Marching” is still pretty swell.
Strangely, I realized that the Dave Matthews Band are the rare jam group who rely on the strength of their songs as opposed to the jams. The extended plays are almost uniformly excellent, but they really rely on the big moments when the chorus comes back in and the melody takes over from the jam (Phish, for example, rely on this a lot less, if only because they aren’t nearly as good with melody as Mr. Matthews).
So what did I learn? I still don’t feel as strongly as I did about the Dave Matthews Band as I did 12 years ago, but a good song is still a good song no matter how much time has elapsed.
That’s my story, so how about yours? Have you tried to come back to a band you used to love? What were the results? Why did you drift in the first place? Share your story in the comments!