(08/23/10 in Los Angeles, CA) Monday night, I got obliterated. Like can't stand up, use your toilet as a shoulder to cry on, silly inebriated. But I didn't have a sip. I'm more sore today than I've been since I once had spinal meningitis. But my backbone is sans virus. Nope. Monday night I saw Dave Matthews Band live at the Hollywood Bowl. Synchronized eye rolls. I don't get it, but there are plenty of people who don't take Dave seriously at all. And then me, of course, by extension for being so devout. But this wasn't my first dog and pony show. I'm not the James Bond of concert-going, per se; I haven't seen every exotic act in every locale, but I'm no slouch either. I've seen everyone from The Stones to Daft Punk, and I've seen Dave, as of Monday night, nine times.
So far this is a very conceited review, but I have to convince you of my bias. That's right. This review is persuasive, and I'll tell you outright. I think I have a fair ear. Last year I caught Dave at the Greek Theater, for example, and was greatly underwhelmed and the night left me feeling more or less inconvenienced. Sometimes it takes a lot to make LA traffic worthwhile. The crowd didn't seem to connect, and the band Matthews built seemed like they were just clocking in and clocking out of a job. As we get older, I suppose that happens to all of us, in a way. Personally, I will admit, sadly, a parred-down excitement or a declining enthusiasm that comes with putting on months, days, and years and taking on the visage of a composed, professional adult. I work on a movie lot. I can't get my boxers in a bunch every time I see a set or run into a famous person. It's much more "Here's your mail" than "Can I have your autograph?" But you know what? F#$% that. (Sorry, Mom.) Last night, Dave got me out of my chair. He got me wobbly dancing like I was in an earthquake. He got me jumping around like I was in gym class or on the playground. How big or small a part is there in all of us that wants just that, needs it, and is looking to release it? When was the last time you got silly? When ya yelped and hollered and cheered and clapped and looked to the sky and thanked your lucky stars and your maker?
When Dave and his immaculately musicianshipped band are at their best, this is what they offer -- a form of transcendence that other acts aim for with lights and stage craft rather than general joie de vivre and the most impressive instrumental skill. Too often we limit ourselves in the size of our shoes; Dave says bust out with your worst but most honest dance. The set was amazing. Full disclosure: my favorite song of all time is a Dave number, literally a number called "#41" off of the Crash album. I've been waiting nine shows and seven or eight years to hear it live. Dudes opened with it...and my seat number? #41. It was all meant to be. They followed with another number, "Seven," off of their last album, Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King. The difference between even these two songs is indicative of the Band's talent. "#41" is a sprawling, jazzy number that rides violins and sax through interpretive lyrics that optimistically talk about hard days of the past gone to possible joy of the moment and "coming out in the rain to play." "Seven" has the heavy guitar riff of some '70s Stevie Ray Vaughn and a disciplined, tight rhythm. It's where Dave gets sultry and helpless about attraction: "woman, please," he sears out of his lungs at his highest pitch, "I am your possession, and you are my obsession."
The night just got more varied from there. Quiet moments followed like "Stay or Leave" from Dave's solo album about a bit of accepted heartbreak. Funk was thrown in like at the end of an epic rendition of "Jimi Thing" with accompaniment by jazz saxophonist Bob Mintzer where Dave scatted before improvising lyrics, both of which are un-typable. C'mon, I already upset my mother. The funk was kept up with the brass assault of "Shake Me Like A Monkey." There were rarer oldies -- "Don't Drink The Water" and "The Stone" -- both of which have the angry orchestration of some other country's deep-seated folk, to newer and embraced like the unreleased but vivacious and celebratory romp "Cornbread" that you could see raising a barn as it declares the joys of love: "it soars inside my soul because of you, the innocence that you inspire," or the southern-fried, Katrina-inspired "Alligator Pie."
There were samples from the greatest hits album too, like the intoxicating "Crush" and the pulse-pounding anthem of possibilities, "Ants Marching," which closed out the show. It's not that I don't outright love other kinds of music. Hit me with Jay-Z at the right time and I'll be rapping along my Midwestern bred best; throw me in a pit with Rage Against the Machine and I'll be a sweaty, angry mess. But there's something about the Dave Matthews Band, whether it's the versatility and complexity of their music itself or its influences (Dave is at once South African born and tribal inspired but Virginia-raised) that commands respect. There were times during the show, to be perfectly honest, when a solo would turn into something more like a one-man show and my mind would wander. This happened during "Lying in the Hands of God," specifically. But even as I actively tried for distraction, thumbing through texts on my cellphone, I was drawn back into whopping "Whoo!" just because I was so darned impressed. Try to watch a version of "Two Step" on YouTube and not feel your blood pressure rise or your foot stomp. Their closing version last night, by the way? One of the greatest things I've ever seen at any concert. The crowd was spontaneously bursting to it like popcorn in a bag being blasted by radiation.
I think people separate with Dave at his vocals. Sure, he's a bit guttural; there can be some gravel turning in that throat of his every now and again -- and he sounds kind of like a Muppet that's been smoking for a long time. But it's so unique, so earnest, and so damned honest that it's gripping. Dave's voice bends and drags and soars and yips and cracks like a tuned instrument along with the rest of his crew, reflecting tugs and pulls and ups and downs of emotion. Bob Dylan might have love songs and drug songs and angry songs, but in and out he'll sound like someone getting out of bed and groggily asking for their eggs in each one. I'm not dissing Dylan, by the way -- I'm just saying we shouldn't dis Dave for wearing his heart on his sleeve or his band for its honest optimism. Honest? Yeah. The MO on Dave is that he's a band for hippies (I'm hardly one of those) -- a directionless jam machine that's all about tie-died rainbows. Hardly. Dave's music, as it did in this show, spanned from yearning to anger to hope to celebration to the political and even the religious. A stirring moment passed as, in the opening of "Two Step," Dave shouted pleading words to the night sky, screaming that he "wanted to believe in Jesus," all the while the neon white cross that sits on a hill over the Bowl's shoulder evaluated Dave from above.
For the record, I used to hate Dave too. I saw him as the annoying Muppet in a simple hippie band that sang happy good-time anthems over acoustic guitar about Mother Earth and such, but then I actually gave it a listen. Perhaps it all boils down to "Pig," a rarer Dave selection that he played last night that isn't even a personal favorite. "Is it not enough, this blessed sip of life, is it not enough ... don't burn the day away..." In our reserved hum-drumedness or our disaffected, disconnected hipness, we burn the days away, we miss the moments, we deny the extremes of joy and love, and even hurt and desire in ourselves. We pass on experience for something just a little safer, a little more concise, maybe something auto-tuned or familiar. Or maybe it's like Dave said between all his jumping around and singing: "The best times of my life is when I can say, 'F*ck it! I'll make a fool out of myself in front of all y'all.'" Sorry again, Mom, his words -- not mine. Not that I don't agree with the guy.