Last year I was lucky enough to attend the Dave Matthews Band's gig in Lucca on the 5th of July, and I have to admit it was something quite unique.
Marco and I already sang its praises in the September issue of Buscadero. After 6 months, in hindsight, I have no choice but to confirm the feelings I had on the spot: it was a tremendous, powerful, overwhelming and exciting concert, where ecstasy and skill, technical virtuosity and good vibes, energy and creativity, individual talent and team symbiosis blend into each other in equal parts, thus creating an unstoppable flow of pure music which is difficult to resist and where it's hard to tell where rock ends and jazz begins, where funky gives way to pop, where Dave's lyrical songwriting and dreamy singing joins the instrumental elaborations and the improvisation of an "orchestra" which is as good to see as it is great to listen to.
The DMB's music is all encompassing and without borders. One cannot define it as rock, funky, jazz, or ballad because it's all those things mixed together; a flood of sounds that split up into a thousand smaller streams, in all kinds of virtuosity and solos, and break into continuous drum fills, in an intoxicating and irresistible groove, only to combine again in a single crushing sound in which there is Dave Matthews. With his 'folk singer like' guitar strumming and his voice - at times soft spoken, at times enraged and shouting - (and dressed just like the regular guy next door) Dave mesmerizes, enchants, seduces and charms, making the audience dream and stealing people's smiles and hearts, in an endless vortex of emotions.
We must thank the music industry (price aside) for making the gig in Piazza Napoleone in Lucca available to all: a stylish book-shaped box set that includes large and beautiful pictures taken during the 2009 European tour, 3 CDs from the show in Lucca (not just a cold excerpt from all the gigs), and a wonderful DVD of the show at the Brixton Academy in London.
There are about 6 hours of music that will enthrall anybody who loves rock in a wider sense of the genre, a long jam-session divided into songs (although it's hard to call songs the sometimes 8/10 minutes-long tracks) that celebrates the deeds of the band: the amazing Carter Beauford, the man that beats his drums while wearing white gloves and a smile on his face, the powerful bass player Stefan Lessard, the acrobatic violinist Boyd Tinsley, who adds his burst of madness to their already unpredictable music, ranging from Jean Luc Ponty to rock, from classical music to psychedelic.
After LeRoi Moore's recent and unexpected death, they are the members of the Dave Matthews Band, but other great musicians joined the band for the summer tour: guitar player Tim Reynolds, the "big" trumpet player Rashawn Ross and saxophonist Jeff Coffin, who's every bit as good as David Sanborn or any other great modern-jazz saxophonist and who managed to create his own show inside the show with his brilliant playing. A Black and White orchestra, a triumphant display of human and musical integration, with 3 black and 4 white people performing one of the most powerful acts in the rock scene, a portentous empathy among musicians where there is a leader, for sure, but strength comes from the unity in the group, because as far as skill, feeling and talent are concerned, and taking into account the due historical, stylistic and genre differences, we're not too far from the big Miles Davis quintets.
Just enjoy #41 and you'll understand that, as far as this show is concerned, the concept of 'rock' shouldn't be taken literally. Saxophonist Jeff Coffin goes into a long and possessed solo, in a messed up but at the same time organic dialogue with Beauford's franctic drumming that represents one of the pivotal moments of the show (both in Lucca and at the Brixton Academy), a flow of Bebop powered by the bass groove and by Reynolds' stinging guitar, an apotheosis diluted by a refined, almost idyllic finale, where real time and swing time finally unite in one perception after so many clashes. It's not the only episode of this kind, since the whole box (CDs and DVD) is at this high level. Spontaneity, imagination but also instrumental discipline and a sense of the group allow the DMB to give the audience a whole universe of music that captivates both the mind and the senses. Consider for example Funny The Way It Is, one of the many songs in Big Whiskey and The GrooGrux King: it shows how much beauty and love encompass the new and renewed DMB show: magic with a sweet melody which then gets "complicated" by a game of breaks and starts, with the violin that brings on the dance and the Fender guitar that bites. Or you can enjoy the lyrical poetry of So Damn Lucky, with its exalting crescendo and horns, and then be taken to heaven by Crash Into Me, one of the most beautiful songs ever written by Dave Matthews, a song that makes you literally scream of joy with a melody just like a Van Morrison ballad, and then explodes with a quote of Dixie Chicken by Little Feat.
The DVD here is not just a filler. It shows another superb concert (the one in London) and it shows the band in action, the dynamics on stage, the apparent randomness of the band's actions, the happiness in the musicians' every movement, both when the music is hard with the groove of a powerful and rebellious rock/R&B (as in the coarse and enraged Squirm or in the syncopated Shake Me Like A Monkey and the torrential Alligator Pie which brings to mind the more exalted Widespread Panic) or when there is a certain 'ballad suffering' (as in Don't Drink The Water - opening song for both concerts -, or the intense Graveddiger, an intimate and deeply involving moment full of pathos and emotion) and again when the songs follow one another like a flood, in a seemingly endless jam (Spaceman and CornBread, Pantala Naga Pampa and Rapunzel in Lucca, and So Much To Say and Anyone Seen The Bridge? in London).
The term 'ballad' can be misleading when talking about the DMB, since songs that speak of love and everyday life occurrences are suddenly thrown off their natural course by the assault of the instruments: Beauford's beats and counterbeats, the diabolic violin solo, Reynolds' steel punches at the guitar, or the saxophone and clarinet just running wild. This is the DMB erotic dance, a jazz orchestra that plays with the energy of rock music and the freedom of a jam-band, a team that play total offense football. The core of the two concerts is obviously represented by songs from the latest album Big Whiskey and The GrooGrux King, but the past is not forgotten, and the 'old' and glorious Before These Crowded Streets and Crash are still well loved by the leader. These two concerts can be seen as the rebirth of the band as well as its summary. There are also two very personal revivals: the traditional Rye Whiskey, introduced in Lucca as a drinking song, and a killer version of All Along The Watchtower, with a slow beginning followed by an explosion that raptures the audience at the Brixton Academy. The box doesn't come cheap, but it would be a huge mistake to miss it.