August 11th, 2006
By Leslie Gray Streeter - Palm Beach Post Music Writer
One of my most enjoyable musical evenings of 2005 was spent watching the first night of a two-night stand at Sound Advice Amphitheatre by mega-popular funk-jam legends the Dave Matthews Band. This is more than mildly shocking, for I am not a jam band fan.
In fact, some of my most miserable moments involve being trapped, powerless, in some dive bar as my twirly-skirted friends did the silent circle dance to a 15-minute bass solo played by some guy in tie-dye. It was a slow, noodley death in a harmonica-riffing hell.
Yet, I kept going to these shows because I thought that one of these times, some secret noodling gene buried deep in my DNA would kick in. Alas, I remained stridently anti-noodle. And I would repeatedly find myself sitting alone in a back bar, cursing myself for not driving my own car, thankfully away from the all the twirling but not nearly far enough from the indulgently jammy tangents and the drunk Dead Head collapsed near the dartboard.
So why did I love my hours with the Dave Matthews Band so much?
It certainly wasn't the pot smoke so thick that it fogged my contacts and made it hard to see my note pad. Or the drunken yuppie sitting behind me who kept wobbling unsteadily with his beer threatening to spill onto my laptop. He called me an idiot because I wouldn't stop writing my review and just give homage to Dave ("Don't you love Dave?" he kept saying, as if trying to recruit me into a cult.)
Actually, I do. I adore his musicality, his devotion to the funk and the beat, which gives a purpose and a deliciously bluesy bent to his jamming. I'm a fan of the funk, so maybe I like Matthews' stuff more than other jam bands because I can hear those roots more clearly — listen to the jangly bass on Too Much or the sexy, understated rhythmic strums underscoring Crash Into Me.
I also love that even when one of his songs heads into its 15th minute, I'm not bored or considering zipping my head into my purse to make the pain go away. He's not just messing around up there — even as his songs lengthen and expand live, there is a clearly joyful path and a tight communication between Matthews and the other band members. In an organic way, he is both blissfully free-formed, yet skillfully controlled.
This reminds me of a conversation I had with Bruce Hornsby, a jazz-trained piano genius who played with über-jammers The Grateful Dead for years. While he is not traditionally a jam band guy, Hornsby says that he and those bands are "kindred spirits" because "they have a freer approach to music."
While all jam bands have that free approach, not all of them have the ability to explore those tangents in a way that's musically connected to the song they started 25 minutes ago. Dave Matthews Band has that, and I'm actually bummed I won't be in town to see them this weekend. I won't miss the smoke and drunk guys, but I always regret missing the opportunity to see good music played live.
I might even don a twirly skirt in solidarity. But I'm not twirling, man. You can't make me.