Before These Crowded Streets
Maybe it was the drums. Twenty-five years ago, Dave Matthews Band released Before These Crowded Streets. This was to be their follow up to the wildly successful Crash, their best-selling album to date. Streets debuted on the Billboard Top 200 at #1, edging out the Titanic soundtrack after a long run on the charts. The album was hailed as a successful effort to channel the energy of the band’s live performances into a studio version for the masses. More importantly for me, it was the first DMB album that I had the chance to listen to completely. After that, I was hooked and wanted more.
Maybe It Was the Drums
Before These Crowded Streets is a tour de force as well as a guest performance party. The album is a wild ride from the first intro of Pantala Naga Pampa, which means “There’s a snake in my pants” in Indian Tamil. The ride continues to the last bar of Spoon, a beautiful duet with Alanis Morrisette. There are soaring solos by LeRoi Moore throughout the album. Dave himself that tends to push the limits vocally. The songs are a powerful testament to the “jam-ability” of the band. Dave does not hold back with raw, belting vocals on Halloween, The Stone, and Don’t Drink the Water.
Don’t Drink the Water has become one of the album’s most long lasting singles. It was a strong case for including guest musicians Bela Fleck and Alanis Morrisette on the record. This album was my first exposure to Bela Fleck and another reason that I fell in love with the album and the group. After all, who in modern rock uses both a violin and banjo on the same song? Answer, no one by the DMB. I ended up chasing down Bela for multiple shows after hearing this album. The Flecktones are another group of musicians worthy of a mention in a future post. Former Flecktones’ band member Jeff Coffin joined DMB for the past few tours. Its not a coincidence that great musicians tend to run in the same circles.
Carter Beauford Makes The Music Move
For all the musicality of the group and the album, it was ultimately the inexorable Carter Beauford that made me fall in love with the band. Carter grew up playing drums in front of a mirror and set his kit so that it appeared in the mirror exactly as he saw his idols playing on stage. This meant that his kit was set up exactly backwards from how most drummers play. The result was that Carter became completely ambidextrous and completely awesome. To this day, when I listen to the album, I hear a new phrase from Carter that he carefully hid between bars or tucked away in an intro. It is those little nuggets of nuance that make my ears perk up and scream. Even watching the band live, I find myself keenly tuned into what Carter is up to and often it is a lot.
Twenty-five years and six albums later, Carter and the gang are still making awesome music. Every year, we make the pilgrimage to “Labor Dave Weekend” at the beautiful Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington. It is a weekend full of camping, jamming, and awesome scenery as the band takes us on a tour of a catalogue worthy of the adoring throng in attendance. With so many new musicians added to the mix, the best part of the show are the long detours through jam-land, replete with Tim Reynolds signature licks and Dave’s vocal acrobatics. However, in between Crush and Don’t Drink the Water, its Carter Beauford’s rhythmic poetry that makes the Before These Crowded Streets great and ultimately created a lifelong fan of the band. It is my sincere hope to imitate some of the musical expression on the forthcoming album, A Beautiful Catastrophe. Until then, I’ll keep listening and loving those amazing drums.