Why hating Dave Matthews Band is less cool than liking them
Dave Matthews Band is Sunday's big draw for the inaugural River's Edge Festival on St. Paul's Harriet Island. Umpteen die-hard fans who buy the tickets, the merch, and the music are looking forward to another experience with DMB or just "Dave."
However, the 20-years-plus-old Virginia jam-rock band is just one in a line of bands long past the hope of garnering popular critical favor -- especially considering the outcome of our sibling paper LA Weekly's recent "worst bands" list. For many, DMB was Nickelback before Nickelback was Nickelback.
Just as no one will call you innovative for liking Radiohead at this point, we know all of this already. Like Robert Mitchum's "LOVE/HATE" knuckle tattoos in The Night of the Hunter, there is no middle ground -- nobody thinks DMB is "just sort of OK," and it isn't even worth rehashing anymore. Or is it?
Beginning with "What Would You Say" off 1994's Under the Table and Dreaming, DMB had a string of hits that continued on for some three years afterward. A lot of pot-smoking, hacky-sack-playing, backward-baseball-cap-wearing "trustafarians" followed along like a doggy on a string. For a time, DMB seemed to be an unstoppable force, but one with all the charm of a Chilean mudslide.
But then jam bands and Birkenstocks fell out of vogue, and Dave's bus driver accidentally dumped 800 pounds of sewage onto a boat filled with tourists, and we all guffawed. But that incident was back in '04!
Although at the time, it was easy to make "Don't Drink the Water" jokes, but with DMB's diminishing pop presence, people have since moved on and aimed their venom at Nickelback, Creed, Foster the People, and Kreayshawn.
Today, someone saying "Dave Matthews Band sucks" carries no more lasting resonance than uttering observations about the weather.
And yet, it is a little worrisome.
DMB has recorded essentially the same interchangeable songs each time they have entered the studio. There has been no reaching for something different, something more, just reaching for more of the same. Their last studio album, 2009's Big Whiskey & the GrooGrux King, went platinum. An album title like that seems to be a dare to current fans to give up, as well as a cry for help directed at all of the now-ambivalent haters.
In the years to come, could ignoring DMB's consistent, cottage industry mediocrity be parlayed into a nostalgia-fueled popular revival of this band? What's old always becomes new again in the hands of teenagers. The '70s became big again in the '90s -- and with it came disco, which was just as terrible the second time around. Blame older folks who forgot about it. Comiskey Park almost burned down in the summer of '79 during Disco Demolition Night, and then it was as if everyone just agreed never to speak of disco again. When it came back as irony, our parents must have been kicking themselves. We don't have to let this happen with the Dave Matthews Band.
People should like what they are going to like, but DMB has been essentially a stagnant, backwater pool alongside a mighty, flowing river. Can it be cool to dislike them again? Possibly. And a very 21st century reason ties back to the River's Edge Festival, where the band is slotted to play a three-hour set. Journalistically, we're not pleased that the photo contract they're making all photographers sign is so restrictive and strips shooters from any personal control over the images.
They actually use the word exploit! But is this enough to sway popular opinion to care more about caring less about Dave Matthews Band? Eh.
The guys improbably caught lightning in a bottle two decades ago, but elected to stick right in that groove and it has long since become a rut. People crave familiarity in every facet of their lives, but music should be more adventurous than the DMB back catalog. This isn't what we should hand down to our children -- even accidentally.
Dave Matthews Band play Sunday, June 24 at River's Edge Festival, Harriet Island. The lineup and schedule can be found here.
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