Dave Matthews Plays Up Angst
June 11th, 2005
NY Times DAY 2
The stereotype is that jam bands provide happy head-bobbing music for young fans who wish they could recreate the hippie era (but wouldn't actually want to be gray baby boomers now). Bonnaroo has no shortage of cheerful groove dispensers in its lineup. But even more than Bonnaroo's progenitors the Grateful Dead--whose songs weren't all sunshine daydreams--Friday night's headliner, the Dave Matthews Band, puts its angst on the surface of its music. Especially on Friday night, when Mr. Matthews had combed his catalogue for death-haunted songs, going way back to "Rhyme and Reason" from 1994.
The band's latest album, "Stand Up," tightens the screws on an already tight ensemble, using its violin and saxophone almost entirely for pithy little riffs, and on stage the group sounded more sinewy than ever. When Mr. Matthews sang "Hello Again" from "Stand Up," which mourns his sweetheart in her "watery grave, the music found a brisk Celtic-rock groove. But Mr. Matthews threw himself into the grim lyrics, with his face tense and his voice all torn up. It wasn't head-bobbing. It was nothing short of harrowing.