THE DAVE MATTHEWS BAND
"Live at Folsom Field
Just a few months after releasing its latest studio album, "Busted Stuff," the Dave Matthews Band returns to music stores with a 21-song, two-plus-hours concert documentary, "Live at Folsom Field Boulder Colorado," which has been released as both two audio CDs and a single video DVD. Recorded on July 11, 2001, the album culls eight songs from last year's "Everyday" album, plus four songs from the aborted "The Summer So Far" album that were later reworked for "Busted Stuff." Salted with past favorites, the set provides ammunition for not only the ardent fans who love the band but also the skeptical critics who dismiss it.
For the kind of fans whose cheers are mixed suspiciously loudly on this package, the Boulder show provides the brooding baritone vocals, sprawling arrangements and the showy instrumental flourishes that have made Matthews's ensemble one of the world's most popular live acts. But the claustrophobic humorlessness of those vocals and the pedestrian jazz-fusion cliches of those instrumental flourishes will reaffirm critics' suspicions that Matthews has merely dressed up the pompous excesses of '70s British prog-rock in jam-band hippie rags.
The tip-off comes on the album's lone cover tune, Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," which the Matthews Band treats as if it were "Stairway to Heaven." First it's an acoustic dirge; then it's an arena-rock extravaganza, and in both cases the song is filled with dramatic pauses, theatrical repetitions and showy, simplistic solos. Maybe Matthews's songs require this sort of artificial inflation, but Dylan's don't.
Karl Denson has built himself a career on the jam-band circuit as a poor man's Maceo Parker -- a saxophonist whose mix of funk grooves and jazz-fusion solos is an acceptable substitute when Parker himself isn't available. But on his new album Denson steps forward as a singer.
It was a mistake. Denson's tenor is lacking in power, range and tonal color, and his lyrics are little more than a grab bag of predictable phrases. His limitations are especially obvious when he tackles "Check Out Your Mind" by the masterful Curtis Mayfield or allows stronger vocalists Michael Franti and Saul Williams to guest on "Freedom."
-- Geoffrey Himes
Appearing Sunday at MCI Center. * To hear a free Sound Bite from the Dave Matthews Band, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8106; for Karl Denson, press 8107. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)