In 1993, Dave Matthews was a bartender by day. By night, he played solo at frat parties and clubs on the University of Virginia campus, later adding a full band. Six years later, he and his cohorts stand as one of the most commercially successful American rock bands around, but the feel-good, carefree vibe honed at those frat shows remains strong -- even at the acoustic shows, which Matthews and Tim Reynolds have been playing for three years now.
Matthews and Reynolds played an inconsistent but satisfying milange of album tracks, covers and oddities, and Reynolds performed two solo instrumentals. The duo took a few jammy detours here and there, but the songs stayed more or less true to the recorded versions, with a few exceptions: "Crash Into Me" suffered through some forgotten lyrics, and "Too Much" was tossed off haphazardly, with Matthews abandoning the regular vocal melody while Reynolds rattled away with spiraling arpeggios. Highlights included an extended take on "Don't Drink the Water" and a tenderly rendered version of "Pay for What You Get."
Goadings to smoke pot, have casual sex and get drunk are easy rallying cries for a college crowd, and the kids sang along loudly to Matthews' provocative lyrics. Matthews might have helped matters by asking the crowd to keep quiet, but he seemed content to just play his songs while Reynolds added effects-drenched noodling. Two covers, John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery" and Lyle Lovett's "If I Had a Boat" added variety, but seemed like pointless indulgence in front of an audience clearly waiting to hear hits like "What Would You Say," "Ants Marching" or "Tripping Billies," three wildly successful radio singles. Still, some of the show's most satisfying moments came when Matthews stumped the crowd with an oldie or a song snippet. "Jimi Thing" segued into a beautiful ramble called "What Will Become of Me?" while "Pay for What You Get" was preceded by a brief portion of the rarity "#40." "Crazy," another lovely from the vaults, provided much-needed contrast to the cheeseball quotient of "Say Goodbye" and the admittedly catchy "Crash Into Me."
For a much more accessible live concert experience than the actual shows can provide, pick up the new double-CD "Live at Luther College," which sufficiently squelches the screaming throngs.
UP UP UP UP UP UP | RIGHTEOUS BABE RECORDS
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BY ALEX PAPPADEMAS | Ani DiFranco never lies. There's an unparalleled emotional honesty in the way she squeezes folk music and wrings out seething, soothing punk rock, and that's what makes "Up Up Up Up Up Up," her 12th album, such a baffling misstep. With the myth-making, one-two punch of 1995's "Not a Pretty Girl" and 1996's "Dilate," DiFranco built a passionate fan base by speaking truth to power. But on "Up," she's just fakin' the funk.
Seriously -- "Up's" press kit wishfully touts the 13-minute jam "Hat Shaped Hat" as a song that "would have been right at home on some great lost Funkadelic album," but it sounds more like Rusted Root doing "Been Caught Stealing," with DiFranco and crew plugging away at a groove as shapeless as the woven-hemp Phish-show headgear the title seems to describe. And the lyrics are no help: "He held up two fingers and said how many fingers/And I said, 'Peace, man, that's where it's at.'" Tough to get on the good foot when you sound like you'd rather be hacky-sackin'.
Not all the funk experiments fail -- a Hammond organ slinks through "Angel Food," hand-in-hand with an elastic upright bass, lending spooky undercurrents to DiFranco's libidinous rap. Equating sex with stormy weather ("The wind shifts ... the sail smiles, and gently slaps around the mast"), "Angel Food" builds up to the record's best pick-up line: "Do you like to watch when water misbehaves?"
Ani's no Chaka Khan, but the fact that she can write lines like that makes it hard to write her off. She can be insufferably precious (see "Everest") or drearily didactic (the anti-racism, anti-Springer dirge "Tis of Thee" verges on self-parody), but then she'll turn a phrase that leaves you riveted. "Trickle Down," a plodding Springsteenian ode to downsized workers, is interminable, but "Sometimes a distant siren/Can set a dog to barking late at night/Then it dominos on down/Till every dog is joining in" is a pretty awesome metaphor for the spread of bad news.
As the wracked "Dilate" proved, DiFranco's best moments are personal, not political -- in her breakup songs, you can hear the stitches ripping. "Come Away From It," an echoed plea to a lover consumed by crack, captures longing turning into rage, and DiFranco croons the slow, jagged hook over a slow drum break that suggests she's been clocking some Portishead with her Ramblin' Jack Elliott. (Of course, you'd never hear a dumb line like "Do you gotta have a triple decker super fudge sundae with a god-damn cherry on top?" in a Portishead song.) But you don't tune in to DiFranco for good artistic judgment, and on some level, there's a courage in her willingness to fuck up. Ultimately, "Up Up Up Up Up Up" testifies to her magnetism, even if she ends up treading water every time she tries to do the James Brown.
-->BY TONY SCHERMAN | I met Frank Frost back in the mid-'80s, when he told me, "There's a few other bluesman around Greenville [Miss.], but they just country folk. Myself, I'm a recording artist." We were on the set of the wretched "blues movie" "Crossroads," which Frost and his band gave whatever musical authenticity it possessed. Born in 1936 on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi Delta, Frost apprenticed himself in the '50s to legendary harmonica player/bandleader Sonny Boy Williamson and inherited Williamson's rawboned, ragtag, slyly humorous style. You could list the veteran Delta bluesmen carrying on as effectively as Frost on the fingers of one hand. His longtime partner, drummer Sam Carr (who goes back even further than Frost and has a similarly fine pedigree -- his father was the great guitarist Robert Nighthawk), is absolutely laid-back and buoyant. If that's not the feeling this album induces in you, you need a good stiff drink.
-->BY EZRA GALE | Charlie Byrd will probably forever be linked to the worldwide explosion of bossa nova in the early '60s because of his classic 1961 collaboration with Stan Getz, "Jazz Samba." Though it may cause some to overlook his classical influences, this association isn't such a bad thing, as it's encouraged him to revisit the style numerous times since then, most recently on his excellent new album, "My Inspiration: The Music of Brazil." The album is one of Byrd's most authentically Brazilian-sounding yet. Here he is backed by the Brazilian guitar, bass and drums of Trio Da Paz (Romero Lubambo, Nilson Matta and Dudaka Da Fonseca) as well as the wonderful Brazilian singer Maucha Adnet, who appears on half the tunes.
The 12 numbers on "My Inspiration" range from the expected Jobim favorites -- including enchanting versions of "So Danca Samba" and "Fotografia" -- to more eclectic choices. Chopin's Prelude in E minor (here titled "Freddy's Tune") is arranged by Byrd in a bossa style, and proves that even this familiar classical melody can sound sensuously Brazilian. Tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton beautifully evokes Getz's famous tone throughout the album, but the real star is Byrd, who sprinkles his distinctive guitar sound all over, establishing himself once and for all as one of the few non-Brazilian masters of the genre.