Dave Matthews Band’s 25th Anniversary Release Solidifies 2000 as the Band’s Definitive Year
Rob Slater | July 11, 2017
While not much has been made of the Dave Matthews Band’s 25th anniversary by the band themselves, management will release a live compilation of twenty previously unreleased tracks from their history encompassing all eras of the group.
From the early days at Trax in Charlottesville (including the first ever “Doobie Thing”) and their meteoric rise in the late 1990s to the road warrior mentality of the 21st century, there is no stone left unturned when trying to summarize nearly three decades of music in one release.
But one year stands out in particular, finally, as many fans have wanted it to for so long.
At the turn of the century, Dave Matthews Band hit their absolute peak, so it makes sense that four songs are pulled from the band’s 2000 touring year, especially a summer run that still resonates with many fans.
To understand just how powerful Dave Matthews Band was during that frame of time, it’s important to know who they were at that time, who they were trying to become and the intense identity crisis that fueled their live shows with unimaginable, raw power.
By the time 1999 turned to 2000, there was no mountain DMB hadn’t climbed with ease. Millions of records sold? Done it. Played Saturday Night Live? Check. Headlined stadiums? Yep. Played all around the world? Also did that.
Not only were they armed with a legion of fans but they also brought with them three records (and a handful of unreleased songs) widely considered nearly flawless. Not only did the band not have bad material but they hardly had mediocre material. Every show was a different parade of hits and one adoring, unhinged crowd after another. The Dave Matthews Band could do no wrong—they seemed immortal.
But the thing is, none of us are immortal. The year 2000 is when Dave Matthews Band crashed into the wall of fame and were confronted with their own mortality. It’s when the cracks began to show within the fabric of the group. It’s when perfection was no longer automatic. They were at a crossroads. What type of band would they be in the new century? Would they slip into irrelevancy like so many of their fellow 90s cohorts did? Or would they instead choose to blast through that wall now pushing back at them?
Spoiler Alert: They got through the wall, but it wasn’t at the expense of immense struggle.
Coming off a highly successful 1999 tour, the group reconvened with producer Steve Lillywhite for their most infamous and controversial studio sessions to date. You probably now the drill by now—the band wouldn’t commit to releasing anything in early 2000 due to growing frustration with the process (and Lillywhite) and decided to embark on a summer tour with nothing released. That album would eventually leak, now known as The Lillywhite Sessions.
That frustration manifested itself into the finest six-month stretch the band has ever had. It was the perfect storm. Three nights into their summer tour DMB landed at Deer Creek for a still-revered three-night stand. The following night in Cincinnati wound up as Live Trax Vol. 16 and a week later they’d play Soldier Field, then Foxboro Stadium, Giants Stadium, Ralph Wilson and Mile High. Two August shows would also turn up as Live Trax installments. The list goes on.
The shows took on a raw, cathartic feel. Gone was the jazzy polish that emerged in the wake of 1998’s masterpiece Before These Crowded Streets and here was the anything-goes, caution-to-the-wind version of Dave Matthews Band. Over the back half of 2000, they would try out new Lillywhite Sessions songs like “Grey Street,” “JTR,” “Bartender,” “Grace is Gone” and “Sweet Up And Down” to rave reviews.
“Grey Street” in particular morphed into a sermon from Matthews, with each verse packing a harder punch than the last. “JTR” quickly became one of the band’s very best compositions and “Sweet Up and Down” embodied the thrashy, acoustic rock the group was feeling in the moment.
Very few bands have a year that you could describe as “perfect,” but in 2000, Dave Matthews Band was perfect. On stage, they channeled their frustration through their music and dominated the stage night in and night out. There were no warm-up shows. No off nights. Just pedal to the metal for six months.
Unfortunately, things have a way of regressing to the mean. On the backside of perfection is imperfection, and Dave Matthews Band experienced a lot of imperfection in the years that followed. Shortly after that wildly successful 2000 jaunt, the band split from Lillywhite and spit out Everyday in 2001, a glossy, unrecognizable record that played on very predictable pop sensibilities.
The following year, 2002, Matthews returned to the studio with producer Steve Harris to piece together what remained of The Lillywhite Sessions, essentially neutering the raw vulnerability of the versions played in 2000. “Grey Street” became a straightahead rock song, “JTR” and “Sweet Up and Down” were left out and nearly every song from “Captain” to “Raven” and “Bartender” was a shell of its former self, instead slipped into a more attractive package to appease record executives. These impossibly dark, haunting recordings were disguised as something upbeat. The magic was gone.
In an interview with Jambands.com in 2014, Boyd Tinsley probably summed up what made those 2000 sessions so unique:
When you do something in a very special way the first time – or whatever point it comes, but it’s that point where you can feel it and it’s really special – you can’t just go back and do it again. It’s just done; you’ve done that. You can never recreate a special moment or a particular piece of music and what it does to you. You can practice every note and make it as perfect as possible and it doesn’t matter. Once a magical moment happens, it happens and that’s it. So maybe that’s what was part of that; that from-the-heart magic. The heart makes magical stuff happen.The aftermath of 2000 will always feel like a betrayal of DMB’s core values. Matthews would tell Rolling Stone that Busted Stuff felt “truer to the spirit” of the band and that they “felt we were doing the songs justice” this time around. He’d also add that “there was an ugliness” to The Lillywhite Sessions “that left me feeling violated.”
That second quote is very true. DMB made an ugly, sludgy, brutal, honest, beautiful fourth record. They then embarked on a tour that embodied the spirit of that album. It was perfect, if only for a moment.