Pass the Jam, Please.

Dave Matthews Band spreads some holiday cheer in the City of Brotherly Love: December 2018

I have been a guitar player since the earliest times of my life that I can remember. I began to really learn how to play properly at a young age, and I am a serviceable player. I could probably sit in with most anyone. I have learned a lot of different styles of playing — from classic rock electric, to 90’s grunge, and acoustic rock teetering into some Americana / country music. My one flaw as a player is that I have never been a good soloist, preferring to hone my craft through playing good rhythm and being able to keep proper time. My theory of playing the guitar in front of an audience is that if you can keep time properly, no one will be able to tell if you flub a note here or there.

In 1994, I was sitting in my parent’s house in Augusta, GA and I saw a cassette tape sitting on their kitchen table. “What’s this?” I asked. “Oh, your sister left that here when she was home from college last week.” Of course I had to pop it into their Akai cassette deck, and I placed an old set of Panasonic headphones over my ears. I was subsequently blown away by what I heard.

Dave Matthew’s guitar playing method was unique, and in a style I had never before heard, nor ever attempted to learn how to play. It was strangely rhythmic, and at the same time melodic to the point of being like miniature solos within the chords. I instantly realized this would be a good fit for my way of playing if I could learn it. Dave was no “three chord, one hit wonder” kind of songwriter. I was immersed for days with that cassette tape of “Under the Table and Dreaming” — listening and rewinding, and repeating until the tape practically wore out.

I was hooked. I picked up an old beat up acoustic to try and learn the phrasings, and how he would finger unique chord formations all over the neck to get a non-standard, but appealing sound. Dave plays the guitar kind of like you would expect a drummer or a piano player to. I was attempting to give myself a graduate level course in the stylings of DMB. And it worked.

Slowly, but surely, I learned most of the key songs in the catalog over the years. I can still pick up a guitar and play “Crash Into Me” without even thinking about it. I was obsessed.

In 2000, when Dave was at the height of his career, I bought his signature series Martin guitar, one of a numbered series. I was so proud of that guitar, and it still sounds amazing today! It is the same guitar he used on “Listener Supported”, which in my opinion is probably their single greatest live recording.

But all good things really do need to come to and end, right? Up until about 2009, I continued to listen to the music and attend live shows. I mourned the loss of LeRoi Moore. But gradually, their music just became less accessible to me personally. I am not sure why. Maybe the songwriting was less organic than it was in the earlier years. I am not saying it was bad — but it just didn’t hit my ears the same way.

In May 2009, I saw my last DMB show at Fenway Park in Boston. I had given them 15 years of my life, nearly 40 live shows, countless hours behind a guitar learning the hits…and then like a failing marriage, it was over. I needed to see other people. I needed something fresh for my ears. It was a clean break mostly. I retired them from my playlists and mixes, only to occasionally hear a song if Spotify inserted it into a random mix that I was not controlling.

I knew DMB was coming to Philadelphia this week, but frankly I did not really care. I had no burning desire to go. I knew I would miss Boyd Tinsley’s violin and I was nonplussed. And I certainly was not going to spend my own money on the show. But then it happened. I was offered 2 free tickets from a friend who couldn’t go. They knew about my past fandom and thought I would like the tickets. I accepted them — frankly not expecting much. Hell, my friend was even regifting them to me, anyway.

I sat in my seat at the Wells Fargo Center about ten minutes before the lights went down and prepared myself to be disinterested. Then it happened…

I heard the opening notes to “One Sweet World” and it brought me back in time…to that moment when I listened to that cassette tape on endless repeat in 1994. The new keyboard player, Buddy Strong, brought some serious chops to set. DMB felt fresh to me again. It was like they were a new band. They seemed to love what they were doing, and they felt less like a jam band, and more like a serious group of musicians who brought some amazing chops to the stage. They played with the kind of tightness like you would expect from a Steely Dan show, but without the pretentious baggage that Donald Fagan brings along with him everywhere he goes.

I am a DMB fan again. I am proud to say it. In fact, I was noodling on my guitar last night — a full 24 hours after I saw the show — and found myself unconsciously playing the opening lines of #41. And I smiled. I had travelled back in time again. And in the future, I will return to see this new iteration of DMB again. I look forward to the new music they will continue to make. Sometimes getting back together with an old flame is everything you hoped it would be. And this was not just a “booty call.”

Set list:

Dave Matthews Band

Dec 11 2018

Wells Fargo Center

Philadelphia, PA

1. One Sweet World

2. Louisiana Bayou

3. #41

4. Do You Remember

5. Seven

6. Pantala Naga Pampa

7. Lie In Our Graves

8. Burning Down The House

9. Cant Stop

10. Granny

11. Say Goodbye

12. Everyday

13. Kill The Preacher

14. Why I Am

15. Again And Again

16. So Right

17. Here On Out *

18. Don’t Drink the Water

19. Crash Into Me

20. Grey Street

— — — — ENCORE — — — —

21. Christmas Song +

22. All Along The Watchtower

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