|Dave Matthews Band - Stand Up|
|Music Disc Reviews DualDisc|
|Written by K.L.Poore|
|Tuesday, 10 May 2005|
“It’s the Firestarter with bling.”
Thus Kristin had solved the mystery behind the Dave Matthews Band’s latest release Stand Up. I was getting close, I kept telling myself, but I knew she’d nailed it, and “it” was what I was hoping for when I invited her over to listen to the enhanced stereo DVD side of the DualDisc.
I’d listened to both sides of the disc two or three times over the course of three days before she visited. I’d jotted down copious thoughts, read and reread the particulars, and still didn’t have a clue. I’d scribbled that the concept was similar to Chris Whitley’s on Rocket House (which was released in ‘01 on Matthews’ ATO label), a collection featuring DJ Logic that was more assembled than played but still retained the essence of his music. I read that DMB enlisted the crazily talented producer Mark Batson (50 Cent, India.Arie, Seal, Beyonce) to bring something different to their sound. And I know that I had enjoyed what I heard, much more than I’d enjoyed DMB’s previous work, but I still couldn’t get my head around it. I knew I needed someone who didn’t merely enjoy the Dave Matthews Band, they adored them. Someone who would drop DMB into any music conversation, whether it was about Robert Goulet or Sublime or Schoolhouse Rock.
I called Kristin.
When she dropped by later, Diet Coke in hand, I took a little time to explain the DualDisc format, walk her through the DVD extras and ask her if she had any opinion of Stand Up before we started listening. “Don’t know, I haven’t heard it.” This put me off a bit. A DMB release she hadn’t already played a thousand times? “I really didn’t like the last couple of CDs as much as the earlier ones,” she told me as my jaw dropped. “I liked the ‘Winn Dixie’ movie a lot more.” Confused, I pressed play.
After the opening harmonies of “Dreamgirl” had faded, she smiled and said, “I like this, it sounds like old Dave Matthews, but new.” “Dreamgirl” is a fascinating mix of classic Dave Matthews pop/rock and 21st-century production. Rhythmic, infectious and sensuous, the tone in Matthews’ voice alone will probably result in a few hundred extra births this year, and when he sings, “Your top was untied/And I thought how nice it would be/To follow the sweat down your spine,” that number probably triples. With sexy lyrics and a catchy chorus, they made the right choice when they decided on this as the opener.
After the next cut, “Old Dirt Road,” had played for a minute or so, Kristin said she liked it but couldn’t really see Dave’s fans learning all the words and jumping around to it at a show. “It’s more like background music for a party.” Was that what was puzzling me about Stand Up? I had to think. It’s got grooves, it’s got melodies, it’s got a few killer songs … but no, there was something else going on that I didn’t understand. Something that was very un-DMB.
“Stand Up (For It)” busts out like a James Brown number; I’m still waiting for Matthews to call out to Leroi Moore as if he was Maceo Parker. “Leroi. Ha. Leroi!” For my money, these first three cuts weren’t background music, they could get a party started, but Kristin still seemed puzzled and picked up the CD booklet. “The Firestarter’s all chromed out,” she said as she pondered the dancing silver figure on the front.
It’s at this point that Stand Up takes on a more serious demeanor, beginning with “American Baby Intro” and its looping machine gun bursts, that occasionally lightens but doesn’t truly return to the party-like mood of the first three songs. Now that they’ve got you to come to the party, they’re going to tell you what’s on their minds. It seems the Dave Matthews Band doesn’t merely want us to Stand Up, they’re pleading with us to wake up. “Everybody wake up,” Matthews sings in the cut with the same name, “if you’re living with your eyes closed.” And in two songs, he sings the line, “And now our finest hour arrives/See the pig dressed in his finest fine/And all the believers stand behind him and smile.”
These aren’t songs for you to party to or dance to, and they’re not asking you to sing along. They’re telling you something. Asking you to think. Heady stuff, and frankly I’m a little astounded by it. It doesn’t seem like the political Dave Matthews Band who warned us “Don’t Drink the Water” or was slightly amused while telling us how we’re like “Ants Marching” about in our little colonies. No, this is serious stuff, and except for “Louisiana Bayou,” which tries too hard to return to the goodtime feel, the remainder of Stand Up seems to have an air of melancholy about it. A melancholy filled with stark piano, minor keys and, strangely enough, fueled by the killer drumming of percussionist Carter Beauford.
Kristin really likes “Stolen Away on 55th & 3rd” because of the vulnerability Matthews exudes when he sings. “I’m a sucker for his love songs,” she said, and I was somewhat taken aback that she hears a love song where I hear a song about lost love. It must be that sincerity in his voice.
When the next cut, “You Might Die Trying,” started up, she looked over and said, “This reminds me of ‘Ants Marching,’ but edgy. Maybe the Firestarter is like the music. It got a makeover.” I think about it and know she’s right. The hippie tie-dye Firestarter of the past has been replaced by a new one, a shiny one that’s still dancing, but reflecting back at you. It’s not there to blend into a community of humanity. It’s there to drag your attention away from everything else. It wants to be seen.
DMB drops in another plaintive love song, “Steady As We Go,” that for some reason calls to mind Procol Harum (and would be my favorite cut on the disc if not for a line that ends with the cliché, “apple of my eye”), then brings Stand Up to a close with “Hunger for the Great Light,” an oddly-constructed song that actually begins with the bridge, and begs for love of the spiritual, and sexual, kind. That was it. I’d heard it, enjoyed it, and was still searching for the difference. I knew the clues were all there. I just couldn’t put it all together.
As Kristin got up to go she said with a smile, “I liked it. It’s like old Dave with hip-hop.” It was then that I mentioned to her that they’d brought in a producer famous for working with 50 Cent, and she held up the cover and said, “It’s the Firestarter with bling.”
And that’s it.
It’s the Dave Matthews Band, but with attitude.
And if the production gets up in your face, or the song pushes you somewhere that you don’t want to go, that’s okay with them, because it’s what they want. And if they have to shout through a megaphone to get your attention, that’s okay with them, too. They’re willing to give you some of what’s familiar in order to get you comfortable, but they don’t want you too comfortable. They want you to Stand Up, and listen. And for the first time, I’m actually paying attention to what they’re saying.
I have to admit I was disappointed when I discovered that the DVD side had an “Enhanced Stereo” mix vs. Surround Sound, but after repeated listening it didn’t bother me as much, because I ended up preferring the CD mix to the DVD anyway. The CD mix is much more cohesive and the placement tighter. Dave Matthews’ voice is a little too far forward in the DVD mix and although you have a greater ambience, the production style doesn’t give it a natural room setting. Either way, it’s good-sounding music by good musicians who are pushing against the boundaries of their own success, and those that their fans have put up for them. And they can’t be faulted for that.
It should be mentioned that violinist Boyd Tinsley and bassist Stefan Lessard, who stand out on most DMB releases, seem somewhat deep in the mix on this one.
This RCA DualDisc has a CD version of Stand Up on one side and a DVD with “Enhanced Stereo” on the other. The DVD side also has a picture gallery with intimate shots of the band recording the music at their studio in Virginia, and a “making of” documentary that will be interesting to fans and to anyone interested in how music is made these days.