“Some devil, some angel, stuck inside of me.”
Dave Matthews walks on stage like a college student who just overslept and missed an exam. T-shirt wrinkled and hair disheveled, he’s there to perform around three hours of music for a sold out crowd. They don’t care if he looks like an adult man who just fumbled around an Old Navy dressing room; music isn’t, and should never be, a beauty contest. Pick up the mic, grab the guitar, and sing the song like no one else can.
Let me ask you a question: How many Dave Matthews Band covers have you heard in your life? How many good ones? I remember driving around Clayton and passing Cafe Napoli, a lively bar where someone was shredding Crash into Me like they weren’t going to wake up tomorrow. It was terrible. A stinky bad rendition of a classic song about the undeniable feeling of being in love with someone, and having a lot of good sex with that person.
No one can sing that song like Matthews. Please don’t argue with me. How many bands started in the early 90’s, and have toured the ENTIRE WORLD-not Six Flags and a small college hall-ever since? DMB sells out stadiums and the largest amphitheaters. Fenway, Wrigley, Busch Stadium, Citi Field. You name it, and they’ve gone there and will be going again. How many other bands, outside of a handful of groups, can do that for over 25 years? You’ll be naming legendary music acts if you come up with a few names.
Matthews has always sung the truth, the intimate details of his early life, mind, and the world that has been built around him as the tunes evolved. People know the classics: What You Say, Warehouse, Stay, and Ants Marching. Songs that don’t rely on one person, but several hitting key notes and doing their part to make the sound thrive every time.
In a time where people complain about racial inequality, just take a look at Matthews’ band. In fact, the real founder of the band was the late LeRoi Moore, the master saxophonist who passed away in 2008 after an ATV accident. To Matthews and company, he was “the father” of the band. In a time where people ask for celebrities to use their voice for good, just look at the endless charity work that he does. It’s constant.
But what people don’t know about Dave is the authentic construction of his songs, and how they tie to his life. Take Sister, a song that hits as hard as Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven. A song that many had thought Matthews penned as a dedication to his own big sister, Anne, who was killed tragically in a murder-suicide incident in South Africa back in 1994. But according to a Vulture interview, it was for his baby sister. He was just happy to have someone on the Earth who meant and understood him so much.
Matthews lost his dad when he was a kid, and had to travel to the United Stated with his mother at a young age. The tough childhood didn’t exactly hide in his music that well. I could always hear the hardship in most of his songs, the real life rage that must have gone into those songs. But he channeled it so well. What he did in Charlottesville was find a group of musicians that wanted to do the same thing he did: play music. That’s all. Play the songs. Jam like a band. Boyd Tinsley (who is away from the band tending to personal matters), Carter Beauford (one of the best drummers around), Stefan Lassard, Rashawn Ross, Jeff Coffin, the dynamic Tim Reynolds (who is from St. Louis), and the late Moore.
How many other musicians have to be pulled off the stage near midnight, with the tour buses running and the stage clearing? How many guys pull from their own life struggles and produce such amazing music?
“But it all sounds the same!” Wrong. Tell me how Jimi Thing sounds like Gravedigger, and I will give you a nobel prize. Tell me how I’ll Back You Up sounds like Crush. Go ahead. This isn’t AC/DC, who had the unabashed need to produce hardcore rockers. DMB shakes it up, and that comes from Matthews.
He is my favorite for all these reasons. A singer-songwriter who crafts songs of love from real moments of tragedy, loves a good bourbon, isn’t afraid to be weird and abnormal, and puts on a helluva live show. Because every person on this rock has a particular song or album that can silence all the bullshit in an instant. It’s the Listener Supported live album for me. Before These Crowded Streets is like my Joshua Tree.
I also appreciate the fact that he’s wholeheartedly honest about his troubles and addictions, even in interviews with mainstream outlets. Like David Gray, Matthews is a “what you see is what you get” kind of person. I like that he soaks through at least t-shirts in a live show, and writes song lyrics on people’s arms. Just some devil, or some angel, stuck inside a body I guess.
While his band can be a polarizing form of entertainment, all I take away from that is the message is getting across. The bad bands die off and never come back. The good ones stick around notoriety just long enough. The great ones continue to play crowded rooms on crowded streets. If you’re talked about in this world, the job is getting done. People can hate Matthews and his music all they want, but they don’t have half a clue of where the songs actually come from. Maybe they hate that he is still so popular all these years later. Success breeds haters, but constant success basically drowns them.
Fact: I can’t wait until I am sweating my ass off at Riverport listening to the Dave Matthews Band sing and play the night away. People will be dancing and moving, for sure. One of the best memories I have in my life is attending that Busch Stadium show, and looking up into the upper terrace to see people shaking their hips and singing those lyrics.
Here’s the thing. A musician has reached the top when the crowd sings the songs for you. Dave, dancing like a maniac with a demon inside of him even past the age of 50, is there.
When I’m down, I know where to turn to.