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Something Old, Something New

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With the closing of the Spring tour, most Dave Matthews Band fans have only one thing on their minds: 16 days until the summer concerts begin! But before we turn our attention to what's to come, let's take a look at where we've been. Wrapping up an unbelievable run last weekend in Las Vegas, the Spring shows have been nothing less than spectacular. From old wonders like “Pig,” “Raven,” and “Granny,” to new tunes like “Funny The Way It Is,” “Beach Ball,” and the "Rye Whiskey" cover, to “The Last Stop” tease and “Blue Water” partials, this expedition truly offered something for everyone.

Undoubtedly one of the most exciting parts of this journey has been the introduction of fresh compositions from “Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King.” So far we've been gifted with a total of 4 numbers from the record, “Funny The Way It Is,” “Spaceman,” “Why I Am,” and “Seven.” We also enjoyed “Beach Ball,” which is featured on the bonus disc and available with the super deluxe purchase of “Big Whiskey.” The most recent addition, “Seven” debuted just last week on May, 5th 2009 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. By far the most unconventional of the contemporary songs, it features a cacophonous, asymmetrical style. In the DMB road crew notes, Dave says of this piece, “ Tastes a little bit funny, but that's okay. Something's wrong with it. I hope that it eventually affects you in a positive way at some stage.” Perhaps surprisingly to Dave, it already has.

In fact, all of the new additions have been received extraordinarily well by enthusiasts this year. One reason for this could simply be that the songs rock! But even the best music is often met with disdain initially, as Bob Dylan found out when he was essentially booed off the stage for experimenting with an electric guitar at The Newport Folk Festival in July of 1965. Audiences can be fickle and unwelcoming of change. So, why are fans so quick to accept these novel works?

My theory is that it has something to do with the way that they were presented, right along-side some of our most loved classics. In psychology we call this positive conditioning. A feared stimulus (new song) is paired with a pleasant stimulus (old song) and in that way we come to view the originally feared stimulus as something positive. This method works wonders for phobias, and apparently it also works for introducing brand-new music! Now before anyone starts writing in, I'm not saying that we were manipulated into liking these melodies. I don't even know if the band planned it this way. All I'm saying is that with a little help from our old stand-byes, we were perhaps better able to be more open to experiencing these creations. Just look at the set-list from the opening night at Madison Square Garden. Every time a new song was introduced, it was sandwiched in-between two older songs: “Funny the Way it is” was played between “Cornbread” and “Raven,” “Spaceman” came between “You Might Die Trying” and “Dancing Nancies,” and “Why I Am” was debuted in-between “#27” and “Ants Marching.” If we really want to get technical, we could also talk about the recency effect, which states that the last item on any list will be the one most remembered. If we look at the tunes that come directly after the new works, we can see that they are huge fan favorites, including “Raven” which hasn't been played since August 2006. All of this means that we will be left with a highly positive feeling after hearing our adored familiars, which one could reasonably argue, would transfer to our experience of the avant-garde tracks as well.

Or, as I said earlier, maybe the new songs just rock.

Hayley Bauman, Psy.D.

Author of Serendipity and the Search for True Self