It's safe to say that the Dave Matthews Band owes the bulk of its tremendous success to the stage. Multicultural grandsons (of a sort) to the Grateful Dead, the band combines a jazzy, jammy feel with distinct world-beat sensibilities, using the live format to stretch out and comb for nuances in its studio product. With grooves and polyrhythms as its focus, DMB has an untraditional lineup -- acoustic guitar, bass, violin, drums and saxophone/flute -- that leaves the group wide open to experimentation.
The South African-born Matthews assembled the DMB in 1991 in Virginia and took to the Southeast college circuit with a vengeance; the band generated enough buzz in two years to release a self-funded live album. Drafted into the H.O.R.D.E. tour in 1993 for a three-year residency, the DMB continued to haunt campuses the nation over, even after the release of its RCA debut, Under the Table and Dreaming, in 1994. Thanks both to the band's grassroots efforts and the radio hit "What Would You Say," that CD sold over four million copies, and its 1996 follow-up, Crash, debuted at number two on the Billboard charts. Still, the band did not let up on its road work, seemingly logging as many miles as sales.
Early on, the Dave Matthews Band never hesitated to credit tapers (that is, band-sanctioned bootleggers) with helping to spread its music across the country. So it was puzzling when, in 1994, the group and its management made a concerted effort to stop hard-core fans from disseminating "unofficial" DMB releases, actually working with the federal government to have people arrested. After an FBI crackdown on the bootlegging industry, the band responded to the void in the market for live DMB product, releasing the double album Live at Red Rocks 8.15.95 in 1997.
All of which primed the group for its biggest effort yet, Before These Crowded Streets. The band's most ambitious release so far, it features appearances by a diverse list of guest artists, including Alanis Morissette, Bela Fleck and the Kronos Quartet, and exudes a more dour vibe than past releases. But even in its current world-weary state, DMB can't seem to shed its jam-band tag: Most of the tracks on Crowded Streets stretch to seven or eight minutes. Count on them running even longer live.
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The Dave Matthews Band performs Friday, August 14, at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, The Woodlands. Showtime at 7 p.m. Sold out. For info, call 629-3700.
Monster Magnet -- Heavy-duty plod-rock of the Spinal Tap variety is usually best ignored, but somewhere amid the sluggish grooves and muddy power chords, stray bits of intelligence occasionally emerge. That's where Monster Magnet comes in. Smarter and more accessible than your average Ozzfest act (thanks largely to leader Dave Wyndorf's booming baritone and pop hooks), the Magnet nonetheless recalls the day when the tail end of the hippie generation first discovered heavy metal. On its latest release, Powertrip, the band continues its steadfast adherence to all the codes of classic hard rock: outer-space references, grandiose sexual imagery, drug allusions. Yet, Wyndorf understands the irony of it all. Indeed, winking humor plays a crucial role in the Monster Magnet equation: As the liner notes to their first release assert, "It's a Satanic drug thing, you wouldn't understand." On Friday, August 14, at the Abyss. 5913 Washington Avenue. Doors 8 p.m. Tickets $10. 863-7173. (D.S.)
Next -- A few years back, Philadelphia's Boyz II Men held the number-one spot on the Billboard singles chart with "End of the Road," hanging around up there for more weeks than anyone can remember. Now, it's the Midwest's turn to turn on the harmonic charm, in the form of the singing sibling trio Next. These seamless R&B suitors from Minneapolis/St. Paul cracked Billboard's upper deck earlier this year with "Too Close," one of what is sure to be many panty-dropping hits on their platinum debut, Rated Next. Arguably the most perpetually breathy performers since Peggy Lee, they could have what's needed to take vocal foreplay to the Next level. (Jesus, just writing that made me feel sick.) Opening for Brian McKnight, Saturday, August 15, at the Houston Arena Theatre, 7326 Southwest Freeway. Showtime 8 p.m. Tickets $35 and $40. 988-1020. (Craig D. Lindsey)