DMB live: three times better than the studio

Dave Matthews Band is best heard live. With more and more people disliking Dave and the band, the music is best appreciated in its purest and most creative state, far from the influence of producers and critics.

Even detractors of the band undoubtedly find it hard to deny the raw talent of the individuals who comprise it. Dave Matthews Band performing live, whether in concert or on a live album from a performance most non-groupies were able to attend, best reveals and does justice to the band’s talent and creative energy. Their success at live performance attests to their mastery of the form – the Band generated more than $100 million in revenue from their last year of touring alone.

Each part of the whole is a master musician in his respective instrument and adds to the energy and dynamic of the band. While Matthews himself is often viewed as the heart and soul of the band, the music is undeniably driven by the rhythms of Carter Beauford on the drums and Stefan Lessard on the bass. If you hate the band and the “sellouts” the members have arguably become, then you will undoubtedly hate their newest release which features, for the first time, many songs from underappreciated later albums like Everyday and Busted Stuff.

For those of you who have any musical appreciation for their sound, however, you might want to invest in Live at Folsom Field, their most recent release. The band here applies their basic formula for an amazing live show to their new material, much of which has little bite on the studio albums. Best known for their long live jams and their eclectic approach to mainstream rock, Dave Matthews Band remolds boring, overproduced studio material into exciting, intricate and energized music.

In addition to new, creative renditions of their latest studio releases, Live at Folsom Field returns to old favorites and live classics such as “Crash” off of their 1996 studio album of the same name and “Warehouse” from their 1994 album Under the Table and Dreaming as well as their cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.” “Warehouse” reaches a frenetic urgency unparalleled on other live recordings, and “Watchtower,” a perennial live jam-fest, finds a way to explore new realms of creativity despite the song’s appearance on four other live releases – Recently, Live at Red Rocks (also, curiously, recorded in Colorado), Listener Supported and Live in Chicago. The song has come a long way since 1994’s Recently, when they first released their rendition of a song covered by some of rock’s finest, including Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead and the Indigo Girls.

The new album stands alone as a great work that certainly beats listening to their studio albums, which can warrant the criticism that the low energy makes for a wooden, unenthused listen. I can’t help but be disillusioned with the repetitive feel of the band’s live albums, especially given the frequency with which the Band releases them – five in the last five years seems a bit excessive. Live at Luther College is easily the best of the live bunch, whereas 2001’s Live in Chicago barely registered a blip on most fans’ radar.

I listen to Live at Folsom Field, especially “Crash,” at least three times a day, but I can see myself curbing the frequency with which I listen to any Dave Matthews Band albums at all. I would much rather go to a concert to hear the band’s latest musical interpretations and feel the energy of a huge crowd singing and dancing to some of the most exciting music, compositionally, than listen to an album in which the “classics” sound the same on every other live album; I’ve already heard the new songs at concerts I’ve actually had the experience of attending.

For DMB fans who have never been to a concert or go with little frequency, I would recommend this album as a new addition to their CD collection; it is the first live album to feature many of the songs off of Everyday and Busted Stuff. But, for those fans who prefer live music to recordings, save your money and just go see them on tour this December.