SATURDAY FEBRUARY 4, 1995. The first thing you notice about a Dave Matthews Band concert is the homogeneity of the crowd. White prep school and junior high kids wander around in a Head of the Charles-like social scene. At last Saturday's sold-out show at the Orpheum, the girl behind me asked her friend, "Have you seen anyone yet?" I don't know how she could answer that, considering everyone looked the same in a plaid flannel, fleece jacket and baseball cap combo.
The Dave Matthews Band, poised on the brink of hitting it big with its 1994 album, the 1993 Under the Table and Dreaming, depends on this crowd for its success--its first album,Remember two Things, sold 100,000 copies even thought it was available only at concerts and through mail-order.
So why do so many 14-year-old girls with braces choose Dave Matthews shows at which to smoke their first cigarettes? Well, the Virginia-based quintet's music is undeniably catchy, and their sound is more palatable than Phish or Blues Traveler, who are often grouped with Dave Matthews though each sounds quite different.
It is this catchiness and accessibility that scare away many purists, or perhaps cause them embarrassment when their secret enjoyment is discovered. However, there is a depth to the Dave Matthews Band that sets them apart, as was evident at the electrifying Orpheum show.
First of all, the band achieves a different sound from most pop-rock bands by blending Matthews's acoustic guitar with two instruments not usually found in today's scene: a violin and a saxo phone. These two are not used sparingly either; most of the band's jamming came from Boyd Tinsley's blistering solos, in songs like "Ants Marching" and "Tripping Billies" and Moore's flute solo in "Typical Situation" got the most applause of the night. Their performances showed that even though the band is named for him, Matthews does not hog the spotlight and lets his talented bandmates shine.
A key feature of most Dave Matthews songs is their unpredictable structure. Like a Kids in the Hall comedy sketch, the songs go in surprising directions, ending up in unexpected places. This is not just a result of jamming, but of fundamental shifts in melodic and lyrical moods. For instance, the song "Dancing Nancies" begins in a downbeat minor key and sparse instrumentation (guitar, drums) as Matthews laments, "Could I have been anyone other than me?" Halfway through, the song completely changes course with an eruption of violin and saxophone, becoming upbeat and bouncy: "What's the use in worrying, what's the use in hurrying."
The spark of the Dave Matthews Band was especially welcome after the set by Big Head Todd and the Monsters, the first part of the double bill at the Orpheum. I was looking for ward to hearing these veterans of the neo - hippie H.O.R.D.E. Festival, but the blues-rock trio paled in comparison to Dave Matthews. They seemed like an average bar band that was lucky to be playing such a big venue.
The Dave Matthews Band jammed more in its first song than Big Head Todd did in its whole set. Instead, Todd turned in boring songs that sounded like variations of "Knocking on Heaven's Door," or worse, like something by Eddie and the Cruisers. Their version of Led Zeppelin's "Tangerine" was more simplified and much lamer than the original. Also, Todd's uninspired lyrics were filled with rock cliches: "You're the only one that I want." Todd's head may have been big, but in today's musical climate big heads just aren't enough.