Monday, June 03, 2013

Pop Stories: Dave Matthews Band

I'm testing out a new feature that is intended to be the Pop Culture Roundup's replacement.

"What is this? You're wearing the shirt of the band you're going to see? Don't be that guy." - Jeremy Piven, PCU

When I moved onto campus my freshman year at Heidelberg, I only brought a handful of CDs with me. I figured that, rather than bring all that I had, I'd pick out a dozen or so for which I had a special affinity; a select few that would help me navigate this new phase of my life. As it happened, two of those albums were Under the Table and Dreaming and Crash by Dave Matthews Band. It was 1997.

I couldn't really tell you what inspired me to include those albums along with what no doubt was mostly a selection of Christian rock that reflected the mini-boom it was enjoying in those years. dc Talk and Jars of Clay, among others, were just hitting their stride and I was playing them non-stop in accordance with my newfound station in life, but I had also apparently decided that there was something about DMB--complete with its violin and saxophone augmentations, devoid of any lead electric guitar to speak of--that was compelling enough to make this trip.

Two summers later, I was invited down to Cincinnati by my new girlfriend--she who would eventually become Coffeewife--to take in my first show. Before These Crowded Streets had come out by then, and the live experience put me over the edge. Whatever it was that inspired me to bring those two CDs to college to begin with would now cause me to decide that these would basically be attached to my hip in my Sony Discman. Remember those?

The live experience is the hallmark of DMB fandom. It's where they transform their songs from a few minutes to eight or ten, featuring an interaction among the various instruments that to me is unparalleled. These seven musicians know the songs, know their instruments, know each other so well that they just let the music lead them wherever it means for them to go. This is the kind of thing that separates a real band from a canned studio creation.

To my shame, I've only been to six DMB live shows. It would be six years after that first show in '99 before I'd see them again in 2005. Coffeewife and I have tried to make it an annual thing since moving back to Ohio, with hiccups along the way. But this is now one of our annual traditions: when the new tour dates come out, we check to see if we can go, and we plan accordingly. And so we were at Blossom Music Center on June 1st to see our favorite band once again.

There was something different about this most recent show for me. The music itself was awesome as always. I hadn't heard them play "Crush" since '08, so that was a personal thrill. But it was something else.

I've always been a follower of the sentiment expressed above in the PCU quote: don't wear the shirt of the band you're going to see. It's little more than a "too cool for the room" idea, but I've always liked it. Plenty of people do it, and we saw a variety of DMB shirts that night. We each get a new one every time we go. They're mementos of a moment in time: I still have my 1999 tour shirt somewhere, and it's my understanding of the complicated rules of concert apparel that wearing it would have commanded respect rather than ridicule among whoever keeps track of dumb stuff like that.

No, as I observed those who deigned to violate the largely unspoken rule given voice by a little-known cult classic, I felt an urge for the first time to throw on my newly purchased Carter Beauford jersey. It was less out of a felt need to conform and more out of a desire to celebrate this community I'd long been a part of, this fanbase that still trades recordings of live shows, that has come to recognize some of the band's tendencies during extended jams, this group that celebrates the original "big three" albums that made them fans to begin with and shares a common empathy in the hopefulness and frustration that subsequent albums have brought. I wanted to celebrate the culture as much as the band, and that almost inspired me to ignore the rule I'd long observed.

Almost. I'll probably wear it sometime this week instead. One has to stick to one's principles, you know.