In the world of popular music, there are often artists who are better off taking residence in a recording studio.
There are also artists who do okay in the recording studio, but really shine on stage.
The Grateful Dead is probably the most notable example of a group, who had their moments in the studio. But on stage, they were among the greats— especially in the eyes of their fans.
The Allman Brothers first few studio albums caught the ears of fans. But it wasn’t until they released their live album, “At The Fillmore East,” that it became well-known that their live shows were blistering.
The reasons for the dichotomy between live and studio can be manyfold. But primarily, the difference is a simple matter of energy. A studio, by its nature, is antiseptic. Thus, the process of recording also tends to sap energy from a performance as the goal is to “getting it right” for posterity.
Live, the bands can feed off the energy of the crowd. And live, they can take a chance because they can always get it right the next day.
The jam bands of the 1990s suffered from this syndrome of live shows being better than the albums. Groups like Phish and Widespread Panic were good on record. But they built their base of rabid fans because of their skills on stage.
The Dave Matthews Band falls into this category of jam band falling prey to the recording studio. They had their fair share of hit singles earlier in their career like “Ants Marching,” “Crash,” and “The Space Between.” But audiences fell in love with them because of the way they could extend a track on stage and by tossing aside the niceties of a polished recording.
I’ll admit that prior to the DMB’s show at the Mohegan Sun Arena on Dec. 2, I was not part of their rabid fan base. Also, I had only a casual acquaintance with their tunes. But I had heard about their live shows from fans who went again and again.
So, I went with an open mind and great anticipation.
Let me jump to the chase and say, at the sold out show at the casino, the Dave Matthews Band, proved over and over again why they have a reputation for being an exciting live act. And it verified that their recordings don’t do them justice.
First of all, on its recordings, the Dave Matthews Band has a mellow feel. It made sense that they were dubbed adult alternative back in the day. But, on-stage at the Sun, there was energy, zip, and power in everything they did.
In particular, the bottom—provided by bassist Stefan Lessard and drummer Carter Beauford— demonstrated a kick and rhythmic thrust (a rolling thunder, if you will) not always evident on record.
Also, on stage, the many moving parts of the band’s arrangements— which are evident on the recordings— are considerably more impressive. The group clearly has a strong grasp on jazz modals. There is great skill in getting notes to meet, cross, and divide. And the polyrhythms were more than just your standard rock four on the floor.
Like any good jazz artists, the Dave Matthews Band would begin at a familiar place and end somewhere that was even unexpected to them.
The group, which also includes Matthews’ longtime collaborator Tim Reynolds on guitar, Buddy Strong on keys, Jeff Coffin on sax, and Rashawn Ross on trumpet, knew how to bob and weave among the arrangements. And Matthews rode expertly over the waves of notes and beats.
One of the best moments of the evening was when Coffin took a solo and for a moment referenced Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.” There were just a few notes from the melody provided by Coffing, but the audience promptly took over the vocals and the DMB quickly shifted gears to provide the appropriate musical accompaniment.
Before the show at the Mohegan Sun, I was not sure what to expect—despite the dedicated fan base of the Dave Matthews. But at the end of my stay at the show, I understood why Dave Matthews Band fans love the Dave Matthews Band.
I give the Dec. 2 Dave Matthews Band show at the Mohegan Sun Arena 3 out of 4 stars.
PHOTOS by MIKE CHAIKEN