May 19, 2005
in issue 0420 of The Hook
BY VIJITH ASSAR VIJITH@READTHEHOOK.COM PHOTOS BY VIJITH ASSAR
Suzanne Meukow, the Dave Matthews Band's travel coordinator, is sitting in the Charlottesville airport awaiting her departure to catch the Band's CD release show in New York.
"I've worked with them since day one," she says, indistinguishably proud and sentimental. She may be marveling at the contrast between the days when tour accommodations consisted of a cluttered Ford van and today, a sweet world in which no venue is too large. Or too small.
For the release of Stand Up, the sixth studio album, they've chosen the 3,000-seat Roseland Ballroom. That's a far cry from the show locals are most familiar with: the 2001 blow-out at UVA's Scott Stadium, which was 50,000 strong and didn't demand any traveling. As one of the city's biggest events ever, it's a vivid memory for many residents even four years later.
And now, Charlottesvillians can expect another show of biblical proportions. But not from Dave-- although DMB manager and real estate titan Coran Capshaw is among the promoters bringing the Rolling Stones to Scott Stadium in October. It looks like DMB may have put Charlottesville on the musical map in more ways than one.
A day before the Stones announcement and 300 miles to the north, Myra Seay is the first person in line at Roseland, which played host to the Stones in 2002 and will do the same for DMB tonight. The doors for the general admission show won't open until 8pm, but-- like the rest of the line stretching around along 52nd at Broadway-- Seay clutches her ticket so tightly that one might start to think she's waiting outside the Wonka factory.
"I came last night, but nobody was here, so I went home," she says. "Then I came again at 4:30 this morning. The first guy in line wasn't in line," she says. "He was homeless."
And so Seay, up against the wall outside the theater doors, staked out midtown's most coveted spot, jumping for joy. To whatever degree she could, that is-- her left leg is covered in a bright pink cast.
"When I made the plans to come, I'd just had surgery, and I needed something to cheer me up," she says. "They tell me they're going to save me a place up front," she adds, looking nervously at a crowd that-- if it weren't so kind-hearted-- could crush her like a bull at Pamplona. Fans #2 and #4 nod in affirmation.
Seay might be using DMB for medicinal purposes, but Winchester resident Ian White has a different problem: withdrawal. "It's a fixation," says White. "You don't realize it until after your fifth or sixth show. It's an addiction."
White has satisfied upwards of 50 cravings, including the band's last appearance in New York, the free show in Central Park in 2003 that benefited Charlottesville's own Music Resource Center.
Number four in line, Kathy Grummon is sharing a moment of synergy with Dennis Simmons. The two came together from Long Island, and both are wishing that a third friend had made it. Well, "friend" may not be quite the right word.
"I have a Dave doll," Grummon finally confesses. Although Matthews and fiddler Boyd Tinsley were once parodied on Saturday Night Live, the band hasn't yet been officially cast in thermoplastic-- we're talking about a stuffed one-of-a-kind plush toy Simmons commissioned as a gift.
"I don't officially sleep with him, but yes, he's on my bed sometimes," says Grummon. But since Fuzzy Dave is at home napping on the futon, there's one less audience member in an already compact crowd.
"It's going to be cool to see them at a venue that they used to play back when they had the fire of a starting band," says 60-show vet and college student Mike MacDonald. He was still in elementary school in a town in Pennsylvania and therefore can't even pretend to have tracked Tuesday nights at Charlottesville's now-demolished Trax. But he sure knows Roseland.
"The last time they played this place was in 1995," he continues, moments later, grimacing as he realizes just how pathetic his knowledge of arcane DMB trivia might seem to the rest of the world.
"That's the whole reason I'm here," agrees White. "I mean, 3,000 people? When is this ever going to happen again?"
Surely he's contrasting that figure with the nearly 100,000 who showed up in Central Park in September 2003.
"I didn't actually see the band," recalls Detroit resident Debra Smith-- "just the screens."
"Yeah, but you got the vibe," chimes in her husband, Peter. "You got the crowd vibe." Fans coming to concerts to feed on other fans-- how many other bands can claim that kind of camaraderie?
Validating your fandom has its benefits, however. Smith scored her tickets through "The Warehouse," the band's official fan club, which sent an email to the faithful in late April about the Roseland show and closed off orders-- two tickets per member-- later that same day.
UVA student Josh Robertson got in only because of his internship at Red Light Management, another indication that tickets were highly prized commodities. Paige Verducci already has hers, and when a scalper approaches, she unleashes her inner cop.
"You know what?" she snaps. "I met Dave Matthews, and he signed my bag, and he wouldn't approve of you selling his tickets for more than face value." The terrified scalper doesn't want to comment.
The bag she's talking about is custom DMB paraphernalia, our second piece of the day. Dave's January 2004 Rolling Stone cover has been turned into a purse.
Earlier, Verducci located Matthews's hotel and waited outside until he showed. "I freaked out-- like, totally hysterical crying," she says. "After he left, I was just crying for about 15 minutes. I'm the happiest girl in the world right now," she says, masterfully imitating Dave's trademark single cocked eyebrow.
Happy, perhaps. Dedicated? Well, she's no Myra Seay. Though she'll still get as close to the object of her obsession as anyone could hope, she's been waiting only since 11am. "I'm going to be in the front row, baby," she says. "I'm going to feel his spit on my face."
(As late-night comedians have frequently pointed out, a boatload of Chicago tourists got even closer to the band last summer. But thanks to a guilty plea by the tour bus driver, $100,000 in donations, and a $200,000 settlement with the Illinois attorney general announced just 10 days before Roseland, the band appears to have moved past "poopgate.")
The Roseland Ballroom is so small that the intense blue light pouring down from the ceiling fixtures threatens to fill it. It's already obvious that the projection screen hanging above the stage will be unnecessary, but it's there anyway, showcasing a dizzying array of images for AOL Music.
It's no wonder that AOL chose to web-cast this concert. So many raving fans in such close quarters at such a monumental event might be able to liven up even the cold, digital sterility of the web.
It's a little after 9pm when the blue light in Roseland gives way to white light, which gives way to black, and finally the Red Light stars take the stage.
No fuss, no pyrotechnics or even bombastic introductory multimedia-- just the crackling chemistry of beer, sweat, and adrenaline surging toward five electric musicians.
The band seems as delighted as the audience by the unusual environment. Tinsley's pearly whites gleam under the stage lights, burning fans' retinas even from 40 yards away.
There's a quick flash of orange and yellow, and bassist Stefan Lessard positively rattles the rib cage on the first riffs of "Hello Again." The crowd reciprocates with a roar.
Five songs in, the band launches into "Where Are You Going?"
"This is the song I wake up to every morning!" exclaims a voice nearby, mere microseconds after that lush first chord. This is a circus of kindred spirits-- folks who eat, sleep, and breathe DMB. With Stand Up, they're having to learn how to do all three all over again. The new album, released at the close of the show, has a strong hip-hop streak, thanks to new producer Mark Batson.
Debra Smith is eager to hear the new developments. "I'm from Detroit, which has a strong R&B and funk background," she says, "so I like that they have different flavors."
A deli up the street is hawking a new flavor of DMB-approved Ben & Jerry's. The familiar "One Sweet Whirled" has been replaced by the punchline-rich "Magic Brownies."
A bit in front, a young gentleman smokes a bowl packed with marijuana. As soon as he begins to pass it to the friend standing beside him, a stranger a few feet back reaches out to hand him a joint.
"#41" hits like a truck full of regrets. Saxophonist Leroi Moore is holding his instrument like a weapon. For 11 minutes or so, band and audience and the space between them go absolutely bananas.
A reporter taking notes during the show attracts a quizzical fan. "I figured you were inspired and were writing poetry," she sighs, disappointed by the mundane truth.
"Hey y'all," says Matthews between songs, "we had a whole lot of fun making this new album, and we hope it grows on you." They had better pray hard-- copious rehearsals or not, applause for the new single "American Baby" has faded quickly. The crowd is asking the new material to prove itself.
It's 11:23 when the band first tries to walk away from the city that never sleeps, but this crowd is not going quietly. Eventually, convinced by the potent persuasive cocktail of the slowly accelerating clap and the slowly accelerating stomp, Matthews ambles back to the mic and surveys the unflinching crowd. "You're still here?" he asks. Indeed.
Around back, adorers come in hordes hoping for a sighting and occasionally dodging a moving tour van in order to get one. The street has been barricaded to ensure crowd safety.
"I love New York," an irate local fumes sarcastically. "They can block off the street for anything."
"You've gotta be kidding me," agrees a cabbie with an empty car. "Go home, guys."
Tinsley is the first band member to exit and enthusiastically wields the waiting Sharpies. "He made sure he got everybody," says Berklee College of Music student Matt Lowell, excitedly displaying a now-valuable keepsake that began the night as a free promotional poster.
Dan Naps paid a much steeper price. "We left during 'The Stone' to wait outside," he says. In other words, a little over halfway through the show. "We've been out here at least two hours."
It's more than simply having missed the concert, though. "The tickets we got on eBay were $600 for two," says Naps. That's nearly 10 times the list price, but still not at the top of the scale. "I saw a couple for $1,500," he says.
Verducci probably wouldn't approve, but Stacy Pershep and Vinnie Paolozzi might have anted up. "We met in a bar, and as soon as he said he's a fan, I didn't let him go," says Pershep. "Our mutual love of the Band helped us get a lot closer." Pershep's ties run deeper still.
"My dad died in the World Trade Center attacks," she says. "Six months later, a friend of mine pointed out that the only time I ever smiled was when the Dave Matthews Band was on. That was when I became a fanatic."
She has Tinsley and Matthews sign her shirt, smack-dab on the chest. Paolozzi doesn't object.
The hobbled Seay has used her neon handicap to grab the Band's attention, and she leaves with a less risqué keepsake.
"I always hold up a sign that says 'Stick Me Again, Carter!'" she says. "He forgot to give me my drumstick, but he did give me one of Dave's guitar picks."
Carter Beauford is widely considered one of the best drummers on the planet, but it's still not clear whether the band as a whole deserves a similar superlative. But the fanatics have no doubt. "They're going to be around forever," says Verducci. "They're going to be like the Beatles."
Or, depending on who you ask, the Stones.
UVA graduate Scott Simpson, however, finds such high-flying comparisons ludicrous. Despite four years spent in Dave-crazy Charlottesville, he's more confirmed in his disdain than ever.
"They're an overly glorified jam band that is clichéd and unoriginal," he says. "I think they have a good market now, but they're not going to be remembered in a few years as something that has had any impact on the evolution of popular music."
His Stones commentary, on the other hand, is shockingly upbeat. "They've been so good for so long that nobody like that is going to come along again. It's just a matter of probability," he says.
Simpson plans to attend the October Stones show in Charlottesville just as he did the DMB show four years ago. In his presence, however, you'd better refer to it as "the Neil Young show"-- he was annoyed that the hotshot young band was able to subordinate the aging rock legend into a mere opening act.
"I went to the concert, but I kind of turned my ears off because I was so pissed off that Neil Young wasn't taken seriously," he says.
When Seay calls the next day to chat, she's annoyed as well. "The Stones just played a free show in New York," she moans, "and I didn't know about it."
That drives her to pick up some paid seats to a different Stones show. When we next speak, she's actually in line for tickets. "They were able to change with the times," she says. "I don't know if Dave is going to be able to."
That's Mike MacDonald's favorite part. "Usually tour-opener sets are rough," he says after Roseland. "But they really came out tonight. It sounds like they've been really rehearsing the new stuff. I'm looking forward to seeing the songs evolve."
When a 60-show fan is stunned by DMB's Roseland spectacle, that's a positive sign. The band is in an accordingly good mood the next morning when they arrive for their interview, part of the junket provided to the Hook.
Sardined into an elevator with two reporters and an enormous security guard, they are a bit bored during the 45 seconds it takes the express elevator to make its 50-story ascent. Soon enough, a mischievous Dave reaches out and starts gently rubbing the guard's tummy.
The big lug starts convulsing with giggles. "What are you doing?" he asks.
Smirk. "It's for good luck," comes the reply.
Perched by the window in the offices of the Infinity Broadcasting Corporation, high atop a skyscraper just outside Times Square, Tinsley surveys the bustling Manhattan from the perspective of a cloud in an otherwise perfectly clear sky.
"New York is probably the first place outside of Charlottesville where people really sort of embraced us," he says, "so the show last night was almost like a homecoming."
It's no surprise when Tinsley says he wants to do another actual homecoming. "We'd love to play anywhere in Charlottesville that could handle the capacity of fans who are going to come down to the show. It's been a while since that Scott Stadium show. It was a really big step for Charlottesville, having a huge stadium show like that," he says. "I was proud of the town."
And Charlottesville is in turn proud of DMB. But might they soon be eclipsed on their home turf?
"I hear the Stones are playing Charlottesville soon," says Tinsley. "I think the show we did at Scott Stadium a couple of years ago sort of paved the way."
The Stones may have in turn paved the way for DMB by giving them an opening slot on tour in 1997 and 1998. Has the Band caught up?
Reviews for the new album have been mixed: "The Dave Matthews Band has finally found its mojo," says New York by way of the Daily News, while Washington calls it "exhausted, and kind of painful" via the Post.
A few, like Verducci, already believe their band is legendary, but even some of the die-hard, neither-rain-nor-sleet fans like Seay have their doubts.
Somewhere between the short-lived applause for "American Baby" and the unbridled insanity for "#41" is the answer. Or not. Even the Stones have gotten bad reviews. Remember "Emotional Rescue"?
The ball's in Dave's court. The burden of expectation is incredible. But, hey, how bad can it be?