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“Tripping Billies” by Dave Matthews Band. Getting into DMB was a weird process. When I lived in Lake Louise, one of my roommates bought Under the Table and Dreaming and played it … a LOT. Like, multiple times a day. And it’s not as though I heard it and felt “Oh my God, this is the music my soul has been waiting for!” But when I left LL … it’s like there was a Dave Matthews shaped hole in my life. I bought the album for myself, bought the next one, and the next one – finally saw them live – and an obsession was born.

It’s a conundrum; people who dislike their radio singles I always want to tell “See them live, you’ll be a convert!” But concert tickets being the main way bands make money these days, tickets are expensive, and it’s tough to get your head around shelling out $70+ for a show you’re not sure you’ll enjoy. But still. See them live, you’ll be a convert. I’ve seen ’em 12 times, and I don’t regret a single one. I’ve missed the last two times they were in Toronto, and it feels like I’ve missed out on the cool kids’ party.

Anyway – “Tripping Billies.” For whatever reason, I think this is my favourite of their songs. It’s off their second album; like a lot of their songs, the lyrics make virtually no sense, but it’s got a kickass Boyd Tinsley violin solo and is generally one of the most joyful songs I’ve ever heard. See them live, you’ll be a convert:

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bigwhiskeyFinally got my hands on my copy of Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, Dave Matthews Band’s latest studio album. (I had ordered it direct from the web site because you got a three-disc live album to go with it, but living in Canada the damn thing probably sat at customs for, like, a week.)

Despite the terrible title and (sorry Dave, who drew it) ghastly cover art, this is a fantastic album, probably my favourite of their studio offerings since at least Everyday, if not Before These Crowded Streets. I had pretty much given up listening to their studio albums in the last few years, since their live performances are always so much better. I don’t know if it’s the crowd, or the presence of the extra musicians – Butch Taylor, Tim Reynolds, Rashawn Ross – or that Dave can’t do his whispery falsetto when he’s competing with the live band, but the concert albums always have far more energy.

Here, though, there’s lots of the same kind of electric jam stuff that was on Everyday, but with more of the elements that are the DMB signature: time and key signature changes, additional instruments like the banjo and the organ, not to mention fewer songs aimed directly at Dave’s wife.

The album is a kind of requiem for LeRoi Moore, who died before it was completed. He’s the big face in the middle of the Mardi Gras parade on the cover – a very different image of LeRoi than most concert-goers would have had, since he was a still, stoic presence on stage. The first track, “Grux,” is an instrumental featuring multiple saxophone lines, and “Why I Am” is specifically about him (he liked the song a lot, Dave told the crowd at the concert last week).

The album’s themes are familiar terrain for DMB: God, sex, and love, but there’s a big focus here on death too, understandably. The better songs are bunched near the beginning (funny how that often happens, as though bands are still thinking in terms of vinyl), but there’s a cute nothing of a tune near the end called “Alligator Pie” that’s about Dave’s daughter Stella. He has twin girls, Stella and Grace, and he sings about grace, the state of it, quite a lot. The chorus line to Alligator Pie? “Stella said ‘Daddy, when you gonna put me in a song?'”

I need to listen to it several times more before I can absorb a lot of the album – that’s one of the great things about this band, you always hear something different every time you listen. But while I’d trade this and every album to come to get LeRoi back, I’m glad they sent him off with such a great bang.

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Landmark concert this past Tuesday: if my math isn’t totally off, it marked the tenth time I’ve seen Dave Matthews Band in concert. It was also the first show I’ve seen since LeRoi Moore died. Jeff Coffin of the Flecktones is touring with them now on sax, and while he’s got a lot more energy on stage than LeRoi did, he’s not quite in the same league, I don’t feel. Also, there were a few places where it felt like he was stepping on Boyd’s solos, and, if I may channel my inner rock-climbing mimbo for a second, I must tell him to STEP OFF! But it may not be fair to judge on the basis of one show.

Anyway, Sis and I were on the lawn this year (booo!) but managed to see most of the stage most of the time anyway, due to clever positioning. The band played a lot of songs from the new album, which I sadly don’t have yet, but it sounds fun, especially the title track, which is all about Moore. It was one of the more subdued shows I’ve been to, and, as with last year, one of the big highlights for me was the out-of-nowhere cover – this year, Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House” (!) (See video above.)

The band totally kicked it on “Ants Marching” and we got the joy of long jams on both “#41” and “Two Step.” Sadly I couldn’t find a video of Carter’s solo on the latter but it was, as usual, mind-blowingly awesome. Dave was quite chatty, which is always a treat. And although Tim Reynolds was there, we only had to listen to one really annoying guitar-wank from him; for the most part, he kept himself in check, thank goodness. Setlist below:

Funny The Way It Is 
Stay Or Leave 
Alligator Pie 
Anyone Seen The Bridge  => Too Much (Fake) 
Ants Marching 
Spaceman 
Corn Bread 
Seven 
Crush 
Lying In the Hands of God 
#41 
Burning Down The House 
Out Of My Hands 
Why I Am 
Crash (Into Me) 
Squirm 
Two Step 
__________________
 
Rye Whiskey 
You and Me 
Pantala Naga Pampa  => Rapunzel

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That’s three.

LeRoi Moore, 1961-2008

LeRoi Moore, 1961-2008

I can’t believe it. I really can’t believe it.

LeRoi was such an integral part of the Dave Matthews Band. I think he got less notice because he didn’t have Carter’s big personality (onstage, I mean) and wasn’t as flamboyantly odd or as much of a showboater as Boyd. But without him DMB would essentially be a country-rock group. It was his sax that pulled them into pop-rock, and sometimes even funk, territory.

I don’t really know what else to say. This happened, what, almost two weeks ago, and I’m just learning about it now, so I haven’t had time to process it. My heart goes out to LeRoi’s friends and family, and of course to the other members of the band. I may update this later when I’ve wrapped my head around it.

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