The Dave Matthews Band emerged out the 90s jam band movement, rising to become one of the scene’s most biggest acts. As an ex-pat South African, Matthews himself makes an unlikely figurehead for this all-American strain of music, but his mix of stellar musicianship and social consciousness struck a chord with the millions of people who bought his band’s albums and attended their marathon shows.
A point of pride is that they play no song the same twice live – though if you’re looking for definitive versions, these Top 10 Dave Matthews Band tracks are as close as you’ll get.
10. Time Bomb (Big Whiskey And The GrooGrux King, 2009)
With guitarist Tim Reynolds back in the fold after a ten-year absence, Matthews and co. sought to re-establish the ravaged beauty of their ‘90s years on their seventh album, partly named in tribute to their late sax player, LeRoi Moore. Time Bomb simmers and boils in imperious fashion, featuring one of Matthews’ most declamatory vocal performances.
9. Satellite (Under The Table And Dreaming, 1994)
Among the riches on their platinum-selling debut was this vivid examination of the sensory overload of the digital age, shot through with an Orwellian sense of paranoia. Matthews and the band play with a restraint that only serves to amplify the intricacy of the arrangements, with intermittent sax fills, strings and slippery bass.
8. Bartender (Busted Stuff, 2002)
One of a number of songs rescued from an aborted album with producer Steve Lillywhite, Bartender is an expansive treasure that moves from military beats into a roaring jam. On a thematic level, Matthews seeks absolution from the titular character: “Bartender please fill my glass for me/With the wine you gave Jesus that set him free after three days in the ground.”
7. Jimi Thing (Under The Table And Dreaming, 1994)
Warren Haynes, Trey Anastasio and Dickey Betts have all helped flesh out this underrated diamond on stage with Matthews over the years, though its original studio take is a consummate example of a great acoustic jam. With its obvious Hendrix allusions, the song addresses the perils of substance abuse: “If you could keep me floating/Just for a while.”
6. Two Step (Crash, 1996)
Like the very best of Matthews’ songs, Two Step is malleable enough to lend itself to an extended jam on stage (often far exceeding its six-minute studio version) while never sacrificing its fundamental shape. Judiciously-placed sax, guitars and drums make for a compelling intro, before it reaches out into something more anthemic.
5. Crush (Before These Crowded Streets, 1998)
Given wheels by Stefan Lessard’s opening bass riff, Crush is an epic ballad (often stretched beyond 10 minutes in its live setting) devoted to Matthews’ wife, Ashley. There are flirtations with jazz and blues as the song builds towards an animated climax loaded with emotion. Sentimental? Perhaps. But it’s all the more striking for its raw passion.
4. Gravedigger (Some Devil, 2003)
In between a couple of albums fronting his main band in the early part of the millennium, Matthews also found room for his first solo effort. This Grammy-winning standout (later covered by Willie Nelson) is symbolic of Some Devil’s darker tone, with Matthews ruminating on life, death and all things weighty.
3. Ants Marching (Under The Table And Dreaming, 1994)
Routinely referred to by Matthews as “our anthem”, this early classic offers a winning blend of melodic guitar, sax and violin that’s difficult to dislodge once it’s made its way into your head. The lyrics warn against becoming a slave to the quotidian drudgery of everyday life, urging us to reach out for something better.
2. Don’t Drink The Water (Before These Crowded Streets, 1998)
A rare foray into the political arena, as Matthews tackles the injustices of apartheid in South Africa and the subjugation of Native Americans. The whole thing is carried by a dark groove, before exploding into a blazing final pay-off, with guest Alanis Morissette providing a vocal foil. Masterful banjoist Béla Fleck also makes an appearance.
1. Crash Into Me (Crash, 1996)
The third single from Matthews’ biggest-selling album to date is an unsettling, voyeuristic tale wherein its protagonist spies on a girl through her bedroom window. Despite the lyrical premise, it’s elegantly-paced, with a nagging melody and one of Matthews’ finest vocal turns. This Grammy-nominated tune was later covered by Stevie Nicks.