Big Whiskey Impressions
One of the most beautiful things about Dave Matthews Band is their ability to develop and translate their songs on the live stage. Whether it’s an improved jam or a new arrangement to an old classic, there is something about hearing and seeing DMB songs live that keeps fans coming back for more.
One of the biggest questions that come to mind is what they will play and how these songs will be played? Through the years, DMB have been constantly changing their sound and style which as artists, should be done. No rock band can withstand 20 years of touring and recording without exploring their art form, and no one wants to hear the same show and songs over and over.
Even better, getting songs never heard before or songs that they feel the need to bust out just because they are feeling it at the time. Perfect example of that in 2010 are songs like “Break for It” and “Black Jack”. You don’t know what to expect, and sometime neither does DMB. What else is there to do but, just take it all in!
“Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King”, arguably one of their best studio efforts since “Before These Crowded Streets”, has translated to the live stage very well and has been well received by fans. The dynamic of the band and this album has drastically changed with the lack of our beloved saxophonist LeRoi Moore, but his spirit and the band musicianship has held strong.
At this point in the 2010 tour, many have likely had a chance to hear the “new” Big Whiskey songs live at shows and even have seen some progression in these tunes since 2009.
My first impressions of the Big Whiskey tunes live on stage were nothing short of amazing.
I was fortunate to have heard 3 of the 13 Big Whiskey songs live for the very first time at Madison Square Garden. These songs were as good as hearing a new song being road tested because aside from the “Funny the Way It Is” single being released that day, none of these songs had been heard live or otherwise prior to this show.
Dave Matthews posted a tweet, which now seems like a distant memory, offering a free download of the new single and I listened to it a thousand times before the show. When I heard “Funny the Way It Is” for the first time live, all I could think is, well it’s got a catchy hook and what’s not to love about Boyd’s solo, which seems somewhat few and far between on “Big Whiskey”.
“Spaceman” is a cool chill, mellow tune. With the very first performance and my first live encounter, I couldn’t understand much of the lyrics at first aside from “All the Freak’s are on Parade” and "Thought I saw a Spaceman trying to get laid", which I love and musically Carters riff was subtle but strong and it is very to good hear Rashawn standing out more prominently on these new songs.
The first impression of “Why I Am” is of course that guitar riff. How can you not start grooving to that and lyrically it was already a crowd pleaser, due to the that fact that “Groogrux King” is referring to LeRoi Moore. “Why I am” provides high energy and is a lot of fun. Afterwards, with the crowd chanting, “LeRoi, LeRoi” after the very first time the song was played and/or heard was absolutely bone chilling.
Fast forward to Las Vegas, and Dave say’s "First time I heard that song, I was playing it and I thought, 'this is a bad motherfucker right here.' 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."
“Seven” is a song I have grown to enjoy a bit more at shows, but on the first take it was something to be desired. All I could think is I'm hoping the other songs on the album don’t sound like this. Very different DMB on “Seven”, with an interesting riff and groove. Not what I would like call a classic for years to come, but you have to give them credit for not doing the same thing all the time. This is now known to be Dave’s favorite song, as he as mentioned many times on stage. Seven is much more polished now, than that version I heard in Las Vegas. It’s an either you love it or hate it song.
I saw “Squirm” and “Alligator Pie” at Fenway Park which also was played for the very first time. “Squirm” is a beast. Personally one of my favorites on the album and live on stage. I can only describe this song as full representation of DMB. Musically and lyrically it feels complete. It’s soft and delicate, but strong and powerful. The Veillette guitar is always a great thing to see, breaking away from the “norm”. This song is not “Shotgun”, but a very solid song.
“Alligator Pie” is a fun song. The lyrics are not up to par with “Squirm”, but it’s a fun song especially live and yet again breaks away from other songs on the album. It stands alone. Whatever your impressions are of this song or others on “Big Whiskey”, one thing is clear, they were not going to stick to a script and that is what makes this album and these songs so fun to hear live.
“Time Bomb” is just that, a bomb. Interesting riff by Jeff and lyrically confusing. What was Dave thinking about this when he wrote it? I don’t know, but once they kick in to the second half of the song, it doesn’t matter what the song is about, you got to rock out.
The remainder of the "Big Whiskey" songs I experienced live after the release of the studio album.
At Alpine Valley I experienced “Shake Me like a Monkey” for the first time. After hearing the song on the album, there is really nothing about this song that is different live. It is a song that is hard not to love and jam out to. The lyrics don’t matter in this song; the horn arrangement and Stefan’s bass line are what truly make this song. It’s always a fun song to see at a show.
My first impression of “Lying in the Hands of God” was man; I wish LeRoi was still here. I can only imagine what he would have done with this song and boy do I miss him dearly. This is another solid song all around and translates very well live. Since the first time it’s been played it has clearly become on of their favorites to play and Jeff owns this song. It’s hard not to enjoy this song, at least for the music.
What is there to say about “You and Me”? A simple song, yet so powerful and any song that has a positive vibe and message is a beautiful thing. Lyrically, it’s clearly not one of Dave’s strongest, but it doesn’t matter. The simple songs are sometimes the best! Every time I hear it at a show it does nothing but put a smile on my face. On the album it may be perceived as kind of a simple song to end on, but it translates very well live and has been crowd pleaser from day one.
I consider myself lucky to have experienced “Dive In” live. I don’t believe that it is one of DMB’s strongest songs on the album, and maybe they think so too since it’s only been played a total of 16 times. I personally enjoyed this song live and Boyd’s solo is simply beautiful. They should play this one more often.
“Baby Blue” was the last song left on the album that I still had not heard live at a show. I did for the first time in Camden, NJ. The only song of “Big Whiskey” not played with the band and really doesn’t need to be. Dave captures these emotions in these songs and pulls at your heart. It’s a sweet song and very powerful. Not recommended as a mid-set tune, but one to experience live at a show. As Dave said in an interview with Relix, “It’s a heart breaker”
It’s been over a year since the release of “Big Whiskey and the Groogrux King” and it will be sure to stand the test of time just as much of their other albums have. What is even more exiting than ever is what the future holds. With a year off, there will be plenty of reflecting to do for both the band and the fans.
What are your thoughts on the "Big Whiskey" songs live?
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