1998, Music

Before These Crowded Streets (1998) by Dave Matthews Band

I have always been the kind of person to go left when everyone else was going right, when it comes to cultural things. If a song is everywhere, it’s pretty much guaranteed I won’t like it. If a movie is getting celebrated a little too much, I want to not like it. What does this have to do with Dave Matthews?

Well, when I first got to university in the autumn of 2000, Dave Matthews was huge at my university. So many of the (male) students loved him. I had never heard of him in high school (nobody listened to jam bands at my high school) but suddenly I was confronted by this cult-like worship of a singer-songwriter-fronted jam band who I had never heard of. (It was this very album that was the one everyone was obsessed with.) Naturally, I decided I couldn’t possibly like it, and tried to avoid the music as much as possible. (I even argued it wasn’t very musically interesting, despite rarely hearing more than part of a song at any one time.)

What’s particularly odd about my desire to ignore the DMB is that I was really, really, really into prog rock at this point in my life. And though jam band music and prog are too very different things, they do spring from similar impulses. One would have thought that a prog-obsessed 19 year old male would be squarely in the DMB’s demographic. Alas.

So 17 and a half years later I am listening to this for the first time and I’m amazed at how up my alley it should have been when I was 19. Even the fusiony sound of the sax should have been okay to me, as I was getting into jazz fusion. Sure, Matthews doesn’t have the nicest sounding voice (not to say he’s a bad singer, he’s not) but that never stopped me with other bands. It is utterly bonkers that my aversion to trends kept me from actually listening to something I would like. It’s a little sad, really.

Matthews is an interesting songwriter, whose songs stray from traditions (though I think he has help with the arrangements). His lyrics are above average and he is a pretty great singer (though is voice is not the most appealing). The band around him is extraordinarily talented and elevate the music, which would sound very different played by lesser musicians. Yes, they veer too close to jazz fusion cliches for me at times, but other times to venture into other areas (such as “world music”) that add enough musical variety to make up for the fact that Mattews’ sense of melody is not the strongest.

This is pretty damn good, despite all my preconceived notions. At 19, I was an idiot.


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