Saturday, March 31, 2012

Book Review: So Much To Say

“So Much TO Say: Dave Matthews Band 20 Years On the Road”, Nikki Van Noy

This is the newest popular book about DMB, published in 2011.  It is organized in ten chapters, plus an introduction and discography.  This book is intended to represent the views of the diehard fans who follow the band from venue to venue each summer.  Each historical event is accompanied by quotes from fans who were there, practically one quote for every paragraph. The writing reflects this intention, as the author is also a huge fan who can’t keep from gushing at every opportunity.  The first chapter, “An Evening Spent Dancing,” begins at the last show of the band’s twentieth year of existence.  This show is used as a template to provide an overview of the band’s history, with a heavy emphasis on the grassroots nature of their success.  There is a sense of ownership, that the fans discovered and influenced DMB.  “…what makes the DMB fans so unique is that they have actually played an integral role in the trajectory of the band from day one.  In so many ways, DMB fans are just as much a part of the story and history of this band as the musicians themselves.” (p. 9)

Chapters Two, “Getting Started” and Three, “The Little Red Van” cover the origins of the band.  Van Noy focuses on Charlottesville, Virginia, painting a picture of the artistic environment there in the late ‘80s that encouraged musicians to collaborate.  There is a very brief description of Dave Matthews’ upbringing, with no mention of his early musical experiences before he came to Charlottesville  in 1986.  There are many quotes from local music critics and some of Dave’s earliest music friends, like Mark Roebuck.  Very rarely is the music itself described, beyond a general “acoustically-driven folk-rock style of music.” (p. 22)  “[t]ypical of the quintessential DMB sound, with its distinct acoustic guitar, driving rhythm, bellowing sax, and full-band crescendo, all underlying whimsical yet introspective lyrics.” (p. 25)  There is a big effort to describe the scene, the feel of the audience itself, such as the tradition of taping shows and trading tapes. 

The studio albums are discussed in the next chapters.  “For Dave, it was important there was a delineation between the live show recordings that already existed in abundance and the band’s first major label studio effort.” (p. 60)  “Together, Dave and Tim [Reynolds] laid down dual tracks for Under the Table, resulting in a full acoustic ound that not only immediately set DMB apart from the vast majority of its musical counterparts of the time but also went a long way toward re-creating DMB’s bold live energy in recorded form.”  Now that Van Noy is talking about the actual music, several discrepancies and clumsy phrases come out.  In efforts to describe the diversity of musical styles of the album (which is true), Van Noy conflates rhythmic patterns with stylistic feel, emotion with orchestration.  There are connections between these features, but in the same way as apples and asparagus.   Yes, apples and asparagus both start with a, are foods, and nourish us.  But it is hard to talk in one instance about the tartness of a Gala apple, and contrast that with the mushiness of overcooked asparagus.  Van Noy also makes the mistake of implying that the lyrics of the songs on Under the Table and Dreaming were written after Dave’s sister Anne was murdered.  The album is dedicated to her, but the lyrics were set well before the tragedy in January of 1994. 

Inserted between chapters are minibiographies of fans, tracing their lives in their connections to the band.  At the middle of the book are sixteen pages of color photographs of the band, fans, and famous performance venues.  The pictures are mostly credited to relatives of the author, as well as Weekly Davespeak.  The book ends with the most recent tours, up to the “break” of 2011, and has a discography up to 2010.

If you want to get a feeling for the attitudes and passions of the DMB fan community without going to a concert or wading through the forums at or, this book will help you.  But if you are looking for a clear history of the band and descriptions of the music, there are better choices.

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