Dave Matthews Band at the Hollywood Bowl
Dave Matthews Band
Los Angeles, CA
This is a love story. A union between a jamband and 18K fans who see the world through very similar lenses took place at the sold out Hollywood Bowl and it was galactic. Dave Matthews Band led his kingdom through the love, humanity, and politics of the anthems that have sold millions of copies over the last twenty years (40 million to be precise). It was mellow, and elevating, and then painfully fleeting. Billed as the album release party and final show of the tour, Dave Matthews relentlessly strummed his guitar for 2.5 hours while an epic video and light show lit up the stage, transfixing an audience who clearly walked in prepared to be put under by this awe-inspiring act.
Dave Matthews has what you would have to call a mainstream underground cult following. He’s iconic like Bruce Springsteen, without all that American middle class connotation; and he’s penetratingly personal, creating a die-hard fan base always hankering for another live show or recording to ease their jamband fever.
What’s interesting about DMB, specifically Dave Matthews, are the diverging reputations surrounding his music — one created by those who worship him, the other by those who mock him. His distinctive vocally eclectic quirks have been an easy target for jokes and SNL skits over the years, but two decades of capacity crowds at stadiums and festivals prove more than mass appeal. There’s so much talent behind every one of these musicians, it is chilling to experience live. Those who make fun, just don’t know what they’re missing.
Our king or clown (your choice) stepped on stage after the sun set on Hollywood, performing “If Only” —- a track from the depths of the new album Away From the World. What’s immediately obvious about the new songs is that they aren’t distinguishable from DMB’s three earliest albums. That doesn’t mean that the lyrics aren’t freshly profound or the riffs redundant and recycled. They are just pure DMB — every track as timeless and relevant as Crash Into Me, Two Step, Satellites, The Best of What’s Around, and on. Those among the crowd seemed to concur, singing loud and proud from the album released the day before the show. These fans do their homework and for many, pride comes from joining their hero regularly for live jam sessions in stadiums filled with like-minded fanatics.
The banter in the beer line and just outside the entrance to the venue consisted of stories and statistics of DMB shows gone by. A quick and painless survey of the ticketholders concluded the median lifetime concert attendance rate at 65 shows per fan since the band’s introduction in 1994. Dave tours continuously, linking one world tour to the next with smaller more intimate venue appearances, often headlining as Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds. In the scheme of it all, 3- 6 concerts per year over the last 18 years does not make for a fanatic, until you hear about the passionate overflow of love and respect for these musicians. Take one look at the DMB website, stacked with live recording series from epic stadiums and cities across the US; Warehouse only (fan club) videos, contests, advance ticket sales; and live shows that predate recording devices themselves (almost), and it will be clear that Dave Matthews Band LIVE is the lifeblood of his fans.
The crowd stood on their feet from the floor seats all the way to the back of the bowl (where you can see nothing but a sea of fans and Dave on the big screens) for close to the entirety of the 2.5 hour show singing through the verbose lyrics (each and every word) and poppy choruses tied together with chants, screams and requests, like “I love you, Dave” “Thank you” and “41.” Even if Dave couldn’t hear them, they wanted to just be heard. Sure this happens with other bands and their audiences, but there was a collective soul at the Bowl that night. At no point did people join hands and sing Kumbaya, however, the guy next to me, to my right, two rows back, etc were all focused toward the stage with the reflection of Dave in their eyes and something very specific in their hearts — Dramatic but 100% true.
DMB played on, unaware of the captivation of the crowd densely sprawled in front of them. Dave joked that the attendees seemed sort of ambivalent to the fact that they were at a Dave Matthews Band concert and that it must be a “Hollywood” thing. More likely, the fans had settled into the sporadically mellow set, just grooving to whatever tune was next on the setlist. Everyone was there for the ride, content to hear Dave’s studio flawless vocals and unyielding guitar strumming while witnessing and absorbing his jamband vibe. This contagion continued through the puritanical tracks “Sweet” “Grey Street” and “You and Me” and landed squarely on the radio chart hits that have infected music lovers around the world, making Dave Matthews Band one of the top selling bands in history. “Jimi Thing” kickstarted the energy with one of the longest extended jams of the night lighting up the stage with spaghetti white lights and glowing red then blue backgrounds that sent the Hollywood Bowl into a full on DMB frenzy. Dave dueled with the violinist (Boyd Tinsley), the drummer (Carter Beauford), and of course Tim Reynolds. Then as the jam seemed to be winding down, Dave broke into some sort of self-mockery, rapping in his signature beat box DM-style that has no peer equivalent, immediately returning to an intense (more intense than you can imagine) ending to the song only to segue into “Shaking that Ass.” Relive it on youtube; it’s totally worth it.
Next up was “Belly Belly Nice” — a new fave off the new album that shares qualities reminiscent of chart toppers from Under the Table and Dreaming, like a lost track that finally found its way back home. Well welcome home – to an insane debut at the Hollywood Bowl where it fit in like an old friend. Then to end the set, Dave performed a grizzly rendition of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” that rocked the house more than any song that night. In fact, if he wanted to end the show without an encore, he would have my blessing because this song was as sweet as it gets, bellowing the words to the spotless sky above Los Angeles, the stars seemed to shutter and the earth to shake. This could have ended my night or even my everything – satisfaction achieved. But an encore was inevitable for the last official performance of the tour, darkness had fallen and Dave appeared alone on stage with his guitar, enveloped in countless blue lights. He took his time winding us through “The Space Between,” while the 2 hours that had passed started to sink in. I daydreamed my way back to “Gravedigger” and “Eh Hee” to see Dave’s quick moving feet and un-erasable smile, and his voice echoing off the sides of the shell. At this point, I also remembered to blast text friends of mine who laughed when I said I had tix to DMB. I let it go because I was so high from the Dave Matthews’ Kool-Aid. Please can I have some more. So then Dave played “Time Bomb” and “Two Step” and the raging machine that was once a hungry crowd celebrated like crazy because “Life is short but sweet for certain.”