Monday, September 19, 2011

This band I like.

So I was changing my laundry, and I found a glow stick in the dryer, among the clothes.  And I thought, I'd like to switch up the tone of the blog for a change, and write about Dave Matthews Band.

Over the Labor Day weekend, my roommates and I drove down to the Gorge Amphitheatre, which is in the desert plateau of central Washington, about halfway between Seattle and Spokane.  Kat was about to turn 30, and her birthday request was for us four to spend the weekend camping and enjoying concerts for three days and nights at the Dave Matthews Band Caravan.  

I've been listening to Dave Matthews Band for a good chunk of my life now - in fact, when I met Danice six years ago, they were one of the only bands in my collection that Danice actually approved of. :)  Seeing DMB live has been on my bucket list for some time.  It turned out this was the perfect year to cross it off.  DMB plays the Gorge every Labor Day weekend, but this time, for the first time, they brought about 20 other bands with them.  I particularly enjoyed John Butler Trio, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, Devotchka, and the Roots.

The Gorge was breathtaking.  You walk up a road and over a hill to see a huge bowl-shaped stretch of grass covered in picnic blankets and people, with another huge crowd of people standing on the ground below them in front of an enormous stage, and behind everything, there's this beautiful backdrop of rocky plateaus, water, and sky.  This photo I stole off the internet doesn't do it justice.

Every day we woke up in our tents to the sounds of frat boys playing beer pong and hippies dancing and smoking.  We relaxed in the mornings, went to the amphitheatre after lunch to watch bands play all afternoon under the hot hot sun, and then stayed for a Dave Matthews Band concert every evening, with about 20, 000 people in attendance.  They performed three nights, three hours each, which means we experienced over nine hours of live Dave Matthews music, ten if you include the incredible acoustic hour of just Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds we watched one afternoon.  Ten hours is a lot for one band.  You'd think they would either run out of music or that we'd get tired of them.  But when we left the Gorge that final night, there were still songs we wished they had done.

Dave Matthews Band is possibly the best live band I've ever seen.  Here's what makes them great:

- No two live shows are the same, because the band members all do so much improvising.  Some of their songs had intros, musical interludes, or outros that were several minutes long, each featuring one or two instrumentalists who would play around with melodies, harmonies and rhythms on top of the chord structure of the song.  Dave loves to step back and let his band members take the spotlight.  Sometimes the band members will play off each other, making eye contact, smiling, showing respect for each other's skills, and pushing one another to play more difficult licks.

- Their songs and their style are unique.  The band mixes acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass, drums, violin, trumpet and saxophone, which makes them hard to classify in terms of genre.  They have unusual chord progressions, time signatures, and melodies in their songs.  The lyrics are rarely straightforward or obvious - they take some unpacking, and I like that.
- Their songs take you somewhere.  They have the ability to capture a mood and sustain it, and then take you into another mood in the bridge, and bring you back again, if necessary.  On the second night, they played my favorite song (possibly of all time), “Bartender”, which is a classic example of this, a song about redemption, with God playing the role of a bartender. It starts off with a simple, straightforward, powerful riff, builds in passion and intensity on the chorus, then hits a climax with this pleading, chanting, wordless bit that Dave does with his voice, and the band takes over, slowly winding down to a peaceful, grace-filled ending on the tin whistle. 
- The individual band members are very strange, eccentric, "un-hip" people.  It’s hilarious watching Boyd, this ripped black man playing or plucking a tiny violin, flinging his dreadlocks and contorting his mouth when he plays.  Tim can shred with the best of them on the electric guitar, but he's such a small man that he looks like a kid playing with his dad's instruments.  Dave moves his eyebrows strangely and dances spasmodically when he plays his guitar. But they don’t seem to care- they’re confident in their weirdness, lost in the music, uninhibited. And this makes them very hip, perhaps hipper than hip.

- The glow sticks.  This is apparently a "thing" at Dave Matthews concerts, and I know some people don't like it, and it could get old, but I thought it was magical.  People brought tons and tons of  glow sticks to the concert, and they'd throw them up all in the air at an appropriately epic moment in a song, creating a firework effect.  Sometimes when the band started a song that everyone was excited about, you'd see glow stick fireworks exploding all over the place.  Then people would gather the ones that fell near them and throw them all over again.  On the last night, everyone started connecting the glow sticks into a long snake, which wound itself slowly all around the amphitheatre.

In conclusion, they are a lot of fun to watch.  Kat, thanks for turning 30, and thanks for choosing such a great participatory gift for yourself!