The thing I like about the Dave Matthews Band is the same thing I like about Phish and Korn and Aimee Mann and Fugazi: the grass roots, baby. These are guys that have built their fame from the ground, strategically and tirelessly touring for years, low on cash but high on determination, drunk on MGD and the dream of greener pastures. Obviously, Dave Matthews and his merry men are not the first to succeed with this approach. In this age of increasing dissatisfaction with the major-label machine, tons of bands are ditching the get-signed-quick pipe dream in favor of simply hitting the road and doing it--bands as disparate as El Paso next-big-things At the Drive-In and Boston frat boys Guster. But DMB is a particularly illustrative example of how it can be done well. True, there's a crass professionalism to all of it--how many nights after a show in a cramped student union did Matthews say to himself, "When people are paying $27.50 to see us, it'll all be worth it"?--that sets the band apart from puritans like Fugazi, who play $5 shows because they feel (know?) anything else is robbery. Still, I'll take Matthews' good ol' American ambition (though he is from South Africa, but that's a twist of irony too complicated to get into here) over a band like Bottlefly, who sprang fully (which, of course, is to say not at all) formed from the brow of the Universal Music Group. Who, you ask? Exactly, I reply. But enough politics. What about the music? Oh, it's nice enough, if that's your sort of thing. I think "Crash Into Me" is terrific, a gorgeously lecherous come-on of a song, even though my brother, a fan who's seen "Dave," as he and most committed fans call him, a dozen times (which is probably like having seen Star Wars twice to the hardest-core supporters), tells me that's, like, one of his worst songs. And I admire "What Would You Say" simply for being so resolutely, so ecstatically white-boy funky (John Popper guests!). Even better are the two cuts from 1998's Before These Crowded Streets on which the Kronos Quartet add their sinewy magic and the graceful acoustic arpeggios that underpin the lovely "Satellite."
I can't lie, though: I'm more into Dave Matthews the anarchic corporation buster (we can all dream) than Dave Matthews the artistic voice of a generation (see?). But that's about 100 percent more than I like poor little Bottlefly, so I doubt, uh, Dave's complaining.