Back in spring of 1995, my equally music-besotted sister was visiting from Philly. We watched Saturday Night Live and saw a new group called the Dave Matthews Band. The instrumentation was unusual – acoustic guitar, violin, sax, drums, bass. They were almost like a modern-day Traffic, not in terms of musical style but more in terms of relatively unusual (for rock) instrumentation. “Those guys are good,” said sis.
I pretty quickly went out and bought their 1994 debut album, Under The Table and Dreaming about which Allmusic says, “The result is a set of eclectic pop/rock that is accentuated by bursts of instrumental virtuosity instead of being ruled by it.” I wasn’t disappointed. It’s an excellent album, by turns funky, sexy and jazzy
This tune is called “What Would You Say” and it’s all those things. The harmonica solo is by John Popper of the (so-called) jam band Blues Traveler. Matthews has traditionally been largely an acoustic guitar player and I like his style quite a bit:
Who are these guys that seemed to come out of nowhere? Dave Matthews was working as a bartender in Charlottesville, Virginia but was actually born in Johannesburg. Encouraged by a lawyer friend of his to do something with the tunes he’d written and demo’ed, he began looking for some fellow musicians.
In 1991, he approached local drummer Carter Beauford and saxophonist LeRoi Moore to get some ideas down on tape, not necessarily to form a band. Says Matthews, “The reason I went to Carter was not because I needed a drummer, but because I thought he was the baddest thing I’d ever seen and LeRoi, it wasn’t because I desperately wanted a saxophone, it was because this guy just blew my mind.
And it was the sense that everyone played from their heart. And when we got together and they asked, ‘What do you want the music to sound like?’ I said, ‘I know this is a song I wrote and I like what you guys play, so I want you to play the way you react to my song.’ There was a lot of breaking of our inhibitions.”
The sound was understandably thin so they added 16-year old bassist Stefan Lessard and violinist Boyd Tinsley. There was no particular impetus initially to have a violin but it sounded so good in the studio that Tinsley became a member.
Here’s another tune from the album, “Lover Lay Down” which gives Le Roi* a chance to show off his stuff.
Over the past 25 years (has it been that long?), DMB have become a fixture on the jam band circuit. I’ve never seen them but they are definitely a band that if I’d been a little younger, would have probably gone with friends to see them.
I’ve heard their live stuff and it’s pretty damn good. They’re kind of tribal like the Dead and I wouldn’t be surprised if they attract that crowd as well. I may yet see them at some point if it doesn’t cost me $250. I like them but I’m not a megafan and I’ve never liked anything of theirs as much as this album.
Last song I’ll feature is the terrific “Ants Marching” which contains the lyric that gives this album its name.
She thinks, we look at each other
Wondering what the other is thinking
But we never say a thing
And these crimes between us grow deeper
Goes to visit his mommy
She feeds him well his concerns
He forgets them
And remembers being small
Playing under the table and dreaming
*Sadly, Moore died in 2008 of injuries sustained in an ATV accident. I was on a work trip once in Utah where they gave us a bunch of those things for some kind of group fun thing. Mine flipped over on me and one guy went off a dune and punctured his lung which is similar to what happened to LeRoi.
Carter Beauford – drums, percussion, vocals
Stefan Lessard – bass guitar
Dave Matthews – vocals, acoustic guitar
LeRoi Moore – alto, soprano, and tenor saxophone; vocals; flute
Boyd Tinsley – acoustic violin, vocals
Album produced by Steve Lilllywhite