Wilco Is Dave Matthews Band – And That’s Okay

A funny thing happened to me as I watched the new Wilco concert DVD, Ashes of American Flags: I was forced to admit, without hesitation, that my favorite band is, in fact, a jam band.

Yes, a jam band. Wilco are the kind of band that sees their shows taped and traded by bearded men whose clothing seems to come exclusively from the REI catalog, men who nod their heads along to super-extended guitar solos, while adhering to the puff-puff-pass rule as rigidly as Young Buck.

I didn't sign up for this. When I started listening to the Chicago-based band made up of singer/guitarist Jeff Tweedy, bassist John Stiratt, and a revolving cast of increasingly proficient musicians Wilco were an alt-country act, recording twangy three-minute pop songs. They evolved — first synth-poppy (Summerteeth), then spacey (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) — but have now entered the full-on, soft-rocking jam territory of American Beauty-era Grateful Dead. Yet I still love them.

My favorite band is a jam band. I hate jam bands. What's going on here?

I guess that's not a big deal to most, but as someone who spent his college years at a big school in the Midwest, making a point of not listening to the String Cheese Incident/O.A.R. shit blaring from the houses on his small-but-proud frat row, it's quite a revelation.

Why didn't I listen to that stuff? It's kinda fun. I like hacky sack. I like Corona. I enjoy sitting on a blanket on an amphitheater lawn.

I attended last Wednesday's Dave Matthews Band concert at Cricket Wireless Pavilion only to confront the fact that, aside from the douchiness of the crowd, it wasn't all that different from what Wilco shows have become. Wilco are a country-rock band with long, jazz-inspired, improvisational piano and guitar solos. DMB are a folk-rock band with long, jazz-inspired, improvisational violin and saxophone solos. Honestly, we could compare snippets from the middle of either band's "jams" and they would be indistinguishable from the other band's jams — even to die-hards. Even to me.

One of the two bands is beloved by every critic type I know; the other is roundly despised by tastemakers and routinely made the butt of jokes by self-proclaimed sophisticates. What gives?

Well, aside from the small instrumental differences — and the fact that one band makes mind-blowing albums while the other writes a lot of pretty shoddy songs — there's only one thing I can come up with: Dave Matthews is fun.

Not for me, mind you. I can't get past the crowd at the DMB show. Even before I'd walked through the gate, I saw a gray-haired man in a backwards Callaway Golf hat playing quarters with his Panama-hatted friend, using nickels and a foam cup. But for the vast majority of the middle-management types at the show, it was a chance to kick back on a weekday evening. Drink a few beers, maybe smoke a joint. Chillax, as the kids say.

The scenario, for many people I associate with, would be a nightmare. Because many of the people I associate with are hipsters. And, as it turns out, hipsters hate fun.

By "hipsters" I don't mean 14-year-olds skinny jeans, I mean 20-something vinyl collectors in chunky glasses and Chuck Taylors. Think Yo La Tengo fan, not MGMT fan.

Unless it's an exercise in irony, you will not find any Chuck Taylor-wearers at this week's Jimmy Buffett concert (also at Cricket Pavilion) or next month's Roger Clyne/Circus Mexicus extravaganza in Puerto Peñasco — not because they don't like music similar to Buffett's or Clyne's, but because they hate music that tends to be associated with the sort of shenanigans they'd rather not be involved with. And those shenanigans — drinking, smoking, singing along, dancing, wearing funny fats — are, by and large, thoroughly fun, even in un-ironic ways.

Just try to get your hipster friends to an amphitheater concert that'll involve people dancing barefoot in the grass or half the crowd wearing floral print shirts. Won't happen. (Though I seriously doubt any person of actual taste would regard Buffett's gloomy alcoholic's lament, "Margaritaville," as anything other than brilliant.) And, certainly, hipster-friendly acts like Ryan Adams and Old 97's enter the same territory musically, while Vampire Weekend writes songs about the minutiae of life in a beach town. Toss a steel drum in VW's "Walcott" and see if Buffett can't cover it convincingly.

For some reason, the music most associated with relaxed good times is the music most unpalatable to hipsters. Thematically, the songs of Dave Matthew and Jimmy Buffett differ little from those in a hipster's usual musical diet, so it must be the atmosphere of those artists' concerts that is the hipster's real problem with them.

The issue, I've come to realize, is that people approach a concert in one of two mutually exclusive and incompatible ways: They go to have fun, or they go to analyze.

But for a hipster, the analysis of the show — probably how much they just fucking love it (though sometimes not) — is a big part of the draw. When you're critiquing something, it's a lot easier to talk about something new and/or not widely known than it is to talk about an artist like Matthews — as I learned when I sat down to write my review. So, that's part of it. Yes, a hipster also is interested in exclusivity, being part of a cabal of cool that's known or understood by mainstream audiences. (If you've ever heard a hipster say he liked a band better before it "got big," you've seen this dynamic at work.)

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10 comments
wrycooder
wrycooder

you are a god damn fool. if wilco is a jam band, i am the bridegroom of jesus christ.

the guuy
the guuy

Man harsh review lol. I feel like your taking you music a little to serious. What happened to being lighthearted and loving? Dave Matthews is an amazing artist and a really cool person in real life if you actually did ur research. And the band that plays along side him are nothing short of pure talent. Dave fans know how to have fun... I dont think they deserve such a bashing lol. Relax and learn to have fun man, It will do you some good.

Jenn
Jenn

Dave Matthews Band, sometimes shortened to DMB, is an American jam band formed in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1991. The founding members were singer-songwriter and guitarist Dave Matthews, violinist Boyd Tinsley, bassist Stefan Lessard, drummer Carter Beauford, and saxophonist LeRoi Moore. InSeats.com has prime tickets to DMB 2010 tour showcasing their new award winning album,Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King.For DMB tickets visitwww.inseats.com/dave-matthews- band

Meat
Meat

What are you talking about? I've seen plenty of hipsters at a Wilco show...and I'm a meathead.

Bill
Bill

you lost me when you wrote that Wilco is a jam band. what?

JJ
JJ

sorry didn't do that. but Actually i did start interpreting the lyrics of Wilco (the album) and posted them to http://www.songmeanings.net/so...

I really did not mean to be that harsh on Dave. especially as a musician. can not and would not try to slam and anyone as far a musical talent. they are all much better than I; but only from the perspective of a listener. In retrospect I was just trying to rip on this guys bad article. to paraphraze what i was trying to say, DMB- Entertainment Wilco- Art.

matt
matt

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture" - Frank Zappa

Wilco rules DMB sucks!

I don't understand was this article the result of New Times essay contest open to area high school freshman? I seriously hope you didn't get paid for this Op-ed (?), ego stroke?,...word vomit?

Congratulations! You and all your friends like Wilco. wow, great, spectacular. I like wilco too. I bet it was quite the quandary for some like you when those VW ads came out. Did you run to Pitchfork to see what every one else thought too? You don't have to like Dave. To each his own. but you better well fucking respect him. "Shoddy song writing"? Sweet mother of MosesAre you a musician? Doubtful. If you are I bet it is on the same level as writer, which means you can play the the beginning of stair way to heaven, but have to stop a few times to get it right.

Stop name dropping buzz bands and thinking you have an ear to the scene. You are nothing but a snob.

I could continue on and turn this into a musical knowledge pissing contest, but you'd have to google about every band I mention. My scene is so hip and underground its me in a closet in my basement.

Jonathan Jacobsen
Jonathan Jacobsen

Your article seems to go all over the place. Your analysis is terrible. You separate "fun" from analyzing. When in-fact to many, this is the most fun part. People running around in "dance circles" may be fun for them but not to people who are there to connect with the performers. There is a difference in participating in a cohesive and conscious musical experience rather than being black-out partying. Both of which are fun but one doesn't require you to pay $50 to go do so. You can be black-out partying anywhere, you can only see a live Wilco show at a live Wilco show. I had a tough time following your thought process in this article so it would not surprise me that you can't understand the vital differences in these performers. Please never so grossly elevate dave matthews to near Jeff Tweedy status again. That's like comparing Mick Jagger to Bob Dylan AKA- Good performer V. God.

 
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