Two nights ago in Pelham, Alabama, The Dave Matthews Band almost played “Blue Water”, a song which has not been performed since July 3rd, 2003. Two nights before that in Charlottesville, Virginia the band dangled “The Last Stop,” which hasn't been heard live since September 12th, 2006. Fans of DMB are not strangers to song teases. According to dmbalmanac.com, the band has been playing partial songs since the early 1990's, although less often than now. In the early days, mostly cover songs and the occasional “Dancing Nancies” were baited. Later, songs like “Proudest Monkey” and “Kind Intentions” started to enjoy some teases. More recently, “#40” seems to be the song of choice for taunting the crowd. Luckily, we had a more complete “#40” last summer in Saratoga Springs, after which Dave mused, “I keep workin' on it. Hoping it will come back...” which speaks to the way in which works take on a life of their own once they have sprung from the artist's psyche. The song will only come back if she wants to; all Dave can do is try. But this is hardly the only reason for the infamous song teases of DMB.
It is possible that in some cases, Dave is merely practicing or trying to remember his lyrics and music in-vivo. But there's no denying that another, more mischievous motive is also at work here. Simply put, Dave loves toying with us! It's part of his character, and part of what makes the shows so much fun. He's been known to joke and make fun of the crowd, and we love it! In Live at Piedmont Park as the crowd is shouting for “Halloween,” Dave responds by saying, “Y'all settle down now. Maybe if you lucky and everything. If you ACT RIGHT!!!” But of course, "Halloween" was not played at that show despite the crowd's best efforts. Just the other night in Pelham, Dave introduced a “new” song, which turned out to be “Crash.” That Dave jokes with us in this way generates a sense of intimacy and makes us feel like we're all old friends. It could even be one of the reasons that we flock so loyally to the shows every year.
Song teases also create a significant amount of anticipation. As if we're not already trying to call the entire setlist for the next show, the song tease adds yet another dimension. Who among us hasn't started wondering whether “Blue Water” will truly reappear this year? The psychology of teasing is well-known. Having a small taste of something is often more exciting than having the whole deal. It makes the song/food/person/place/etc. being teased seem esoteric, interesting, just out-of-reach enough to drive us crazy and make us want more. And Dave knows this. Further, if we assume that the band began by teasing mostly cover songs, perhaps because they were more well-known at the time, then we have to assume that there is a certain amount of pride that comes from the pandemonium created by teasing original songs. The opposite of a one-hit-wonder, DMB has been playing live venues for so long that they actually have tunes that haven't seen the light of day in years. We literally never know what we're going to get. The element of surprise and the possibility of serendipity can combine at any given show to make those present feel like they've just won the lottery. And that's a beautiful thing.
Hayley Bauman, Psy.D.
Author of Serendipity and the Search for True Self