Live in Chicago 12.19.98 Album reviews.
Release Date: 10.23.01
Record label: bmg/rca
Making "Daveheads" Giddy
by: matt halverson
It's been about six months, so it's about time for another Dave Matthews Band album. When fans of the Charlottesville, Va.-quintet weren't grabbing copies of February's Everyday off music store shelves, they were snatching downloads of the unlicensed Lillywhite Sessions off Napster. If that wasn't enough - and for fans of DMB it never is - the band has taken a step back from the Everyday v. Lillywhites debate that rages on to this day among fans to release a live performance from a time before either album was a glint in Matthews' eye. And despite the presence of several songs that have appeared on previous live releases, Live in Chicago 12.19.98 proves yet again that there's a reason Matthews and company are the most popular touring band in the country.
Shortly after the Lillywhites' appearance on the Web, members of the band promised to sate their fans' appetite for an official release of the songs with a future live album that would include concert staples from the shelved sessions like "Grey Street," "Bartender" and "Grace is Gone" in one form or another. Yet in what may be an attempt to stand behind Everyday and wait a little bit longer before bending to the wishes of the fans, the band chose to release Live in Chicago, which doesn't include any songs from either 2001 release. Instead, it offers yet another version of several songs that have appeared on at least two of the four previous DMB live albums, "#41," "Jimi Thing" and "Crash Into Me" among them. (And for the love of God, does the band ever close with anything other than "All Along the Watchtower"?) Based on the collective DMB live catalog, the casual listener might wonder what is so special about seeing the band in concert if they repeat so many songs from one night to the next.
But Live in Chicago isn't for the casual Dave Matthews Band listener. The little nuances that make this collection of songs special would be lost on those who don't own an exhaustive collection of DMB bootlegs, and understandably so. It's those little changes, though - a violin solo where there should have been a saxophone solo, a slightly altered verse - that make hardcore "Daveheads" giddy. And Live in Chicago has them in spades, making it the most impressive live DMB release so far.
Though unquestionably self-indulgent (five songs eclipse the ten-minute mark, six if you consider "Rapunzel" and its the intro to be one extended jam), the performance is tighter than previous live albums. Very seldom does a band member's solo stray too far from the original direction of the accompanying song, and when they do on "The Last Stop" and "Jimi Thing," someone else is there to reign them in.
Guest appearances from saxophonist Maceo Parker and bassist Vic Wooten make the performance all the more special. Though on stage for less than two minutes, Parker punches up the jazz quotient on "What Would You Say" with clipped bursts from his tenor sax, taking the place of DMB saxophonist LeRoi Moore. Wooten, of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones fame, fortifies the already-tight rhythm section of drummer Carter Beauford and bassist Stefan Lessard on "#41" and "The Maker," adding solos that would even put most of today's lead guitarists to shame. Tim Reynolds, the electric guitar guru who has appeared on all but one DMB studio release employs his space-cadet stylings throughout the concert to great effect in most cases. Aside from a misplaced, '80s-style arena rock solo on "Lie in Our Graves," his work goes a long way toward adding depth to the remaining songs.
To the general public, Live in Chicago will no doubt be "just another live Dave Matthews Band album," but to those for whom this little gem has been released, it's a concert performance worthy of collecting.
But seriously, "Watchtower"? Again?