If it wasn’t for Dave Matthews, I probably would have never picked up the guitar. Over the years my fandom has gone up and down, but I still buy a physical copy of every studio album they put out. It’s the least I can do.
Below I put together a playlist of 10 of my favorite DMB jams with a little memory about each one. If it wasn’t for my parents letting me go see the band on 8/17/95 at Palmer Auditorium … well, I’d be willing to bet my life would be considerably different.
“What Would You Say”
Like many people, I first heard of DMB through MTV — you know, when that was where people learned about new music for the first time. The opening guitar riff was unlike anything I had ever really heard before. He was playing slippery, angular slides in this syncopated pattern that was so foreign to my ears.
Imagine this. It’s your 9th grade talent show and you and some friends decide to play one of your favorite songs for the audition. You work incredibly hard learning the seeming impossible chords and riffs and everything feels good after the rehearsal in the hallway. The audition starts and everything is going well, and then … your mind goes blank, the song turns into a trainwreck, and you don’t make it. Yep. That happened to me.
“All Along the Watchtower”
Arguably, this could be first on the list. On 8/17/95 (two days after this live album was recorded) I went along with a friend to see DMB at Palmer Auditorium. Dionne Farris opened. The only songs I knew were “What Would You Say” and “Ants Marching” since they were in rotation on MTV. That night the encore was “Watchtower” and I distinctly remember thinking, “Wow, I had no idea they wrote this song!” It wasn’t until a year or so later that I realized that DMB didn’t write the song — Hendrix did. Hey, this was before the internet.
“So Much to Say”
By this time, I was a die-hard fan. Once I heard Crash was coming out, I made sure to show up on release day to get my copy — remember that? The intro riff has to be one of the most difficult in the DMB catalog. It’s so funky, percussive and swinging. I’m still trying to crack the code on it to this day.
“Stay (Wasting Time)”
I was a junior in high school when their best album, Before These Crowded Streets, came out. It was by far their deepest musically, but “Stay” has this infectious gospel feel to it. I remember seeing them on 12/18/98 hoping they would break this out. They made me wait until the set closer, but it happened. Still bummed I missed being there for Live in Chicago by one day.
“Pantala Naga Pampa” > “Rapunzel”
These go as one, because I don’t think they’ve ever been performed individually before. I distinctly remember bringing the CD home, sitting in front of my stereo and hitting play. PNP was this fun, light groovy jam. Then when “Rapunzel” kicked it with its odd-time syncopation my brain warped a bit. I had never felt a song in an odd-time signature move me so much. Soon after this I discovered Rush.
Welcome to the jam. It’s always exciting when the band breaks this out. Although not as many DMB tunes lend themselves to stretched-out, exploratory jams, “41” is a blissful canvas that allows the main soloists (usually Boyd or Jeff) to take their time and really spread their wings. This version is a highlight, but I’d also recommend checking out the version on Live Trax 19.
Some might say this is just “Tripping Billies” V2.o, but I disagree. Yes, the intro riff uses tenths and is syncopated, but the groove is so syncopated and funky thanks to one of Carter’s most recognizable intro fills. Busted Stuff might be in my top 3 DMB albums.
“Shake Me Like a Monkey”
With the Big Whiskey album, I really felt like the band was back. Cindy and I caught them in Hartford right after this album came out and by far this was the one track I wanted to hear. It didn’t happen. However, the energy and horn parts that Jeff and Rashawn put on this is unbelievable. So much so, that I can’t even listen to a Dave and Tim version.
I was there! Finally, after decades of just missing out on being at an officially released show, it finally happened. This was the second night of a two-night stand at Chicago’s best stadium. A few days earlier I had done a Rig Rundown with Tim in Omaha and we worked out to do Dave’s rig at the Wrigley show. In my opinion, this is the most stylistically unique DMB tune. It has bluegrass blast beats, a meaty improv section, and a huge sing-along chorus.