This post is unlike anything you've ever read on this blog. That's because for the first time in the history of the Internet on this blog, my wife is not writing a blog post. The text you're reading was written by her husband.
I'm not sure why my wife has asked me to write a guest blog post, nor am I sure why she wanted me to write on any topic I choose, but being the good husband I am I'm taking her up on the challenge.
I thought I'd take my blog post (likely, eventually, posts) to avoid anything controversial. Instead, I'll do a series of reviews on the Live Trax series of albums from Dave Matthews Band. Why, you say? I say why not.
DMB Live Trax Volume 1
1) Seek Up
2) Linus & Lucy
3) Pantala Naga Pampa --> Rapunzel
5) Don't Drink The Water
6) Jimi Thing
7) Stay (Wasting Time)
9) So Much To Say --> Anyone Seen The Bridge?
10) Too Much
11) Drive In, Drive Out
12) Tripping Billies
13) I'll Back You Up
14) The Last Stop
When the Live Trax series was first announced, fans immediately began salivating (not literally) over the treasure trove of shows which were stored away in the vaults of the Dave Matthews Band. Similar to The Grateful Dead or Phish, the band's fan recordings are widely circulated. The best performances of individual songs have been debated endlessly on message boards and amongst fans imbibing more than one Bud Light at a time.
I am in the camp that feels DMB gets unfairly compared to those other bands (Greatful Dead, Phish), set-list similarities aside. DMB has never been a "jam" band in it's truest sense. The songs are normally carefully orchestrated with small changes every few years to keep the flavor of each song fresh. The improvisation within the solo sections allows each of the members a space to breathe when their turns come up, but it doesn't take long into a tour to realize that after the second bridge it's (insert band member) turn to solo.
All that being said, it is a wonderful gift for fans of the band to release some of these recordings over time. In my own mind, I split the series between releases of "great shows" and "historically significant shows." Although the definition of "great" varies amongst each listener, each of the releases in this series have offered something to the hardcore fan and would be a fine addition (well, mostly) to any casual fan's catalog.
The first release, before the Live Trax name was given to the series, is a show from a time period which many fans would pick as the band's greatest. The Fall/Winter 1998 tour was in a year in which the band's third album, Before These Crowded Streets, was released and featured long time collaborator and friend Tim Reynolds on guitar. Tim had been playing regular with Dave Matthews on acoustic tours but very rarely joined in with the full band. One of his most famous turns as a guest, 8.15.1995, turned into the Dave Matthews Band highest selling live album to date - Live at Red Rocks.
This particular show also features guest pianist Butch Taylor. Butch guested sporadically in 1998 and 1999 before joining the band for practically the entire 2000 summer tour. In the summer of 2001, Butch once again became a mainstay and would play every show with the band from then until 2007. (He did play a one-off show in early 2008 but departed before the 2008 summer tour began.)
This particular show also features Bela Fleck on Don't Drink The Water, #41, and The Last Stop. Jeff Coffin shows up on #41 as well. Bela Fleck and the Flecktones began touring with DMB as an opening act in late 1996 and became a frequent guest on various songs for...well, that's still happening. Bela on banjo is a real treat. This is one of Jeff Coffin's first guest spots. Jeff, of course, went on to "replace" (I hate that word) Leroi Moore in the band after his injury and death in 2008. It's fun to hear both him and Leroi solo on the same song.
Enough history...on with the review.
The show starts strong with Seek Up. Linus & Lucy is exactly the song you think it is - think any Peanuts movie or TV special you've seen - and is a pleasure when it pops up in the set. It serves as a perfect transition into the relatively recently released Rapunzel. This particular version is of note as it's the only officially released multi-track version which has both Tim Reynolds on guitar and Butch Taylor on keyboard, exactly as it is on the studio version. Many people believe this to be the best released Rapunzel for this reason. (I won't disagree that it's great, but it's not quite my favorite.) Very strong start to the set.
The show slows down a bit during the Satellite, Don't Drink The Water, and Jimi Thing trio. Slowing down in this case isn't bad either. Don't Drink The Water, for those familiar only with the later versions of the song with the faster tempo, may be in for a surprise listening to this version with a slower, darker mood and a subdued banjo in the background. Many people love Tim Reynolds' solo on Jimi Thing, but you can count me in the camp of calling it "okay." Jimi Thing isn't on my top 10 list (at least, if you're talking Jimi past 1995), but this version isn't offensive by any means.
Stay is pretty standard, but the real treat of the middle of this show is the 20+ minute version of #41. This particular version was selected for the first fan club disc provided by the band and there is no doubt that it's one of the best performances of the song ever. #41 is a song that most guests can play on (the groove lends itself to extended soloing). This might be my favorite Jeff Coffin solo ever. (I'd have to give that a little more thought before I committed to it.)
The remainder of the set is driving towards the encore. So Much to Say --> Too Much, Drive In, Drive Out, and Tripping Billies are all fairly standard versions. Drive In, Drive Out is not one of my favorite songs so it's placement here detracts a bit for me. Count me in the minority of that opinion though as most fans eat that song up.
The encore is fantastic. Although it's not the best version of I'll Back You Up, it leads to one of, if not the best version of The Last Stop ever. This song may be the reason this concert was released anyway (seeing as though #41 had already been released). There is an extensive prelude and extended outro featuring Bela Fleck and the band playing off each other. This 20 minute version definitely warrants a few listens and never disappoints.
In summary, highlights of the set include Rapunzel, #41, and The Last Stop. That's an awesome combination and those songs alone are worth the purchase of this set.
The sound/mix on these releases is highly debated. These albums, although multi-tracked mixed recordings, have a wide range of how they sound. Don't expect every one of them to sound the same - they don't. This particular mix, to me, is just okay. It's not offensive, but it's not spectacular. It's ridiculously hard to mix that many instruments together so I don't begrudge it too much, but it's noticeable that it's not as clean a sound as some of the other releases in the series.
Overall, I give this Live Trax a solid 4 on a scale of 1-5. As we go through the series, there are definitely some real winners and definitely some albums which can be skipped (for those attempting to complete collections). This is definitely one to purchase and keep handy. You're welcome.