DMB’s Crash at Eighteen: Still Paying Dividends
"The band had a bit of a swagger. I wanted to translate that swagger into a more muscular, meaty record." Those are the words of producer Steve Lillywhite from the band's promotional documentary for 2009's Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King. Lillywhite is of course speaking on the band's landmark sophomore effort, Crash.
DMB's 1994 debut Under the Table and Dreaming served as somewhat of a summary and an introduction all at the same time. They were a band for a few years priorand simply needed to put something down officially in the studio. A valiant effort in its own right, sure, but the standard was set with the ever-elusive stellar sophomore album. Lillywhite wasn't kidding when he said he wanted to beef up the band's sound. They would come out armed with a whole new bag of tricks and lay down a rollercoaster of rock that quite literally begins with a countdown (which in hindsight feels more like a warning). Bold, brash and beautiful all at the same time, DMB combined the aggressive with the tender and somehow made it flow. They broke all the rules and created a timeless album. The bouncy "So Much to Say" gives way to the powerhouse "Two Step" which melts into the delicate and creepily romantic "Crash Into Me," immediately cementing its place on every hormonal teenage boy's mixtape to his girlfriend. Just when the record would get quiet, they'd ramp it up with booming horns, a vocalist coming into his own and a drummer that very possibly has eight arms. If there is a better drum track out there than "Too Much" and "Tripping Billies," please link me.
Really though, the flow on Crash is just bizarre. There are two songs that work well in tandem and the band paired them together for life--"#41" and "Say Goodbye." How brave do you have to be to put a 90-second flute interlude in a rock album? Not to mention the yin and yang of the "Drive In Drive Out," "Let You Down," "Lie in Our Graves" run.
Crash didn't just signal a new attitude within the band, it also changed the fans. Some would argue for the worst. You know the numbers behind the album, so me telling you the crowds increased in size shouldn't surprise you. They got bigger, younger, and naturally drunker. DMB fully infiltrated your local frat house and everyone loved them, a trend that amazingly still holds today.
During their massive world tour in support of Crash, DMB would open for the likes of Bob Dylan and Neil Young. They would headline Madison Square Garden for the first time with a pair of shows. They would win a Grammy in 1997 (back when Grammys meant everything) for "So Much to Say." And they would do it all completely oblivious to what lied ahead--the trials, tribulations and subsequent triumphs that would ultimately define this legacy band. Just a bunch of kids blossoming into rock stars in the most elegant and pure of ways, doing it with an army of Charlottesville, VA faithful behind them. Simpler times, for sure.
Much of the allure of Dave Matthews Band stems from the fact that they came about in an era where they didn't necessarily fit. The cool kids were dressing like Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain (it was called "grunge" back then, kids) and you were essentially dismissed if you didn't rock an electric guitar on top of a stack of speakers. In 1996, all of that wasn't the case anymore. Music entered the "post-grunge" era and things softened up a bit. Alanis' crazy-huge Jagged Little Pill was filling up everyone's stereos, the Foo Fighters were on the scene but their debut was nowhere near as heavy as they would become with The Colour and The Shape. The music world was ripe for an album like Crash to hit and hit hard. A record that packed enough of a punch to appease the grunge kids, jammy enough to keep the HORDE tour crowd dancing and original enough to satisfy the critics had absolutely zero chance of failing. As you may already know--it didn't. Crash has been certified platinum seven times over and remains the band's biggest record to date.
Steve Lillywhite would hang out with DMB for one more record, coming in the form of 1998's Before These Crowded Streets, an effort widely regarded as the band's best. He would also strike gold again in 1996, as it would appear, taking the wheel on Phish's Billy Breathes, one of the finest studio efforts from the jam titans. "Free" would hit No. 11 on the Mainstream Rock Charts that year, making it the band's most successful charting single. Oh, the album was also certified gold in 1999. We'll talk more about that beauty in October though when it too celebrates its 18th birthday.