04 January 2011

DMB and The Grateful Dead (non aid post)

I threaten in my about section to write posts that are not about aid and development at my whim.  I have not really done that, but I am changing pace today after reading Concerted Effort: The Dave Matthews Band shows how to make money in the music industry by Annie Lowrey for Slate. As an avid fan of both acts who came too late to see The Dead before the death of Garcia (I refuse to see a show of them in other incarnations although I have seen RatDog when I worked security at the Palladium), but having seen DMB numerous (let's just leave it as 20+ times) I feel somewhat qualified to address the issue.

All in all I think Lowery makes a good assessment of the state of the music industry and the success that DMB have found through touring, but it was this passage which ruffled me a bit:

In many ways, DMB is their inheritor: a serious touring band that has caringly cultivated a devoted fan base and ended up becoming an industry anchor.

This is just plain wrong. The connection between DMB and The Dead is pretty thin when taking a look at what influenced the two acts, style, fan base, etc. DMB has sold millions of records and have produced strong albums. They have not seen this in record sales, but fans of the band will recognize this. On the other hand, Deadheads will skip studio albums for live tapes and albums. The best Dead album (in my opinion) is easily Europe '72. The best by DMB is (again, my opinion) Before These Crowded Streets.

Both bands are at their best when seen live, but the DMB experience is largely tied to the show experience as well as the music. The Dead had the experience as well as the stand alone jams which could be listened to ad infinitum. A better band to call the "inheritor" of The Dead is Phish. A band which has grown simply by touring and with nearly no commercial success. Phish fans will not talk about the greatness of Junta, but the transcendence of NYE '95 at MSG. This is a band with essentially no radio airplay who has built its success on long jams, live shows and constant touring (yes there was a hiatus and semi-break up, but they toured for nearly 20 years straight before that.

Although they have not made nearly the same amount of money as DMB, they have drawn on the same rabid fans as The Dead. Take a walk down the aptly named "Shakedown Street" before a Phish concert and you will see the community that has been formed amongst fellow fans as they sell shirts, drugs, food and beer. Do the same for DMB and you will find beer pong, flip cup, corn hole and the like (some a Phish concernts but not nearly the same extent).

I understand what Lowery is trying to do and she does start with the qualifier before her statement, but I think that there are many bands who are a better fit (re: Disco Biscits, String Cheese Incident, Widespread Panic) than DMB.

Keeping things light, this is the best song written by The Grateful Dead: