This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Dave Matthews Band. In their early days, DMB gained traction thanks to fans (DaveHeads, as they’re known) taping their live shows and sharing them with fellow enthusiasts. The gospel of Dave was first spread through the mixtape, and that spirit has been maintained throughout their quarter-century reign as a must-see live act. Now, for well over two decades, they’ve put on hundreds of shows around the world and released more than 75 live albums to date.
Whether it’s capturing a high-profile stage (i.e. 2003’s The Central Park Concert) or a seemingly innocuous show that becomes revered by fans as an all-time great (2000’s LiveTrax: Volume 16 at the Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati, Ohio), their live albums capture the very essence of the band and the environment they create for fans.
Whether you’re a newbie trying to familiarize yourself with their best live shows (which include random deep cuts and ever-evolving twists on radio standbys) or a seasoned DaveHead taking a trip down memory lane (emphasis on trip), these are 10 of the best and most essential tracks from DMB’s live albums.
“Halloween” – The Gorge
There are three certainties when it comes to seeing DMB live: Drummer Carter Beauford will melt your face; the holy grail of DMB live is during one of their three-day stints at The Gorge Amphitheater in Washington; and if they play “Halloween,” everyone will lose their goddamn minds. Put all those elements together and you’re bound to have one helluva DMB live track, just like the one here from 2002. Opening with a jaw-dropping solo from Beauford, his beats sound like the pulsing, climbing heartbeat of all the fans eager to get to the pulsing center of this beloved, albeit dark and haunting, track. When Dave hits those high notes, there’s nothing quite like it.
“Louisiana Bayou” – The Complete Weekend on The Rocks
If The Gorge is the holy grail of places to see DMB, then Red Rocks in Colorado is a damn close second. Never mind the breathtaking setting and one-of-a-kind acoustics the venue provides — the band brings it when they’re there. Case in point: their trio of shows back in 2005, which featured an earth-rattling rendition of “Louisiana Bayou.” Accompanied by pedal steel guitarist/favorite of the band Robert Randolph, the song transports you back into the still-raw nerve of a post-Katrina America. Randolph rocks the thing so hard at one point his hat flies right off his head. Don’t be surprised if this version makes you lose your head, too.
“Dancing Nancies” – Live in Central Park
From those first few recognizable plucks of the guitar, DaveHeads know which song the group is about to jam out to. It may have caused the most excitement, though, when they did it at Central Park. Matthews is known to tease and play with lyrics to his songs, including the intro of this classic. Sure, when he croons “Could I have been a millionaire up there on 5th Avenue?/Could I have been lost late at night somewhere in Central Park?” it’s the equivalent of “[INSERT CITY] ARE YOU HAVING FUN TONIGHT?” But you know what, they were having fun that night, and you’ll “wooo!” right along with the buzzing, electric crowd.
“The Stone” – Listener Supported
Violinist Boyd Tinsley is a marvel to watch live. The guy not only knows how to make a violin rock, but his “battles” with his frontman always whip fans into a frenzy. But when he’s not popping violin strings from playing so hard (not an uncommon occurrence), he’s playing some of the band’s loveliest melodies. When Tinsley makes that violin cry during heart-soaring solo in “The Stone” (which you can hear starting around the 5:20 mark in this iconic 1999 live show in East Rutherford, New Jersey) you’re going to go from swaying to swooning in an instant.
“So Much To Say/Anyone Seen The Bridge?” – DMB Live Trax Vol. 14: Nissan Pavillion
A sentimental choice, this live album marks the last show that saxophonist and DMB founding member LeRoi Moore played before his tragic death on Aug. 19, 2008. (Moore passed away from complications stemming from injuries sustained during an ATV accident.) The show, which took place on June 28, 2008 in Bristow, Virginia, has a crowd-pleaser of a set list, including the classic “So Much To Say.” But it’s the post-“SMTS” breakdown — known as “Anyone Seen the Bridge” — with Moore’s stirring sax solo that serves as a reminder of what a tremendous talent he was.
“Crush” – DMB Live Trax Vol. 13: Busch Stadium
Bassist Stefan Lessard doesn’t get nearly enough credit. While Matthews’ deliciously goofy dances or Beauford’s insane drum solos can often steal the spotlight, Lessard is something of an unsung hero. Diehard fans know that a Lessard solo will usher in favorites like “All Along the Watchtower” or “Crush,” like it did during this 2008 show, which did not disappoint. This nearly 15-minute version goes in some unexpected directions, but its jazzy, grooving kicker is hard to top.
“Satellite” – The Muse
Jump in the wayyyy, wayyyy back machine to 1993 when the young pups that were the emerging Dave Matthews Band played a series of shows at The Muse on Nantucket Island. You’ll seethe with jealousy at those who were able to see the band in such an intimate setting, and you’ll marvel at how tight the group already was at that point. “Satellite” became one of the band’s biggest hits in the ’90s and something of a live show staple, but to hear it in one of its earliest iterations is nothing short of magical.
“Lie In Our Graves” – DMB Live Trax Vol. 11: SPAC
A solid live album through and through, this 2000 recording from a show in Saratoga Springs, New York features the forever crowd-pleaser “Lie In Our Graves.” Clocking in at a little over 16 minutes, this beauty of a track highlights the talents of each member of the band in their own special way. (The lovely piano accompaniment of Butch Taylor, who toured with the band in the early 2000s, doesn’t hurt either.)
“The Last Stop” – Live At Wrigley Field
There’s no doubt that DMB’s relationship with the city of Chicago is a complicated one. The infamous 2004 “Poopgate” incident aside, fans of the band had a scare in 2010 when an alleged bombing plot was foiled outside of a show at Wrigley Stadium. Unshaken, DMB went on to perform an amazing rendition of arguably their best closer, “The Last Stop.” These shows won’t be remembered for what could have been an unspeakable tragedy, but rather for a perfect ending to their 2010 tour.
“#41” – Live at Luther College
Okay, technically this isn’t a live DMB album, rather a Dave & Tim record, but it’s their most essential one. (Tim, for the record, is the mind-bogglingly good musical genius that is guitarist Tim Reynolds.) Before Reynolds joined the band permanently, he was a frequent collaborator, including on this 1999 album, which helped elevate acoustic tracks into trippy toe-tappers. “#41” sounds good in any capacity, but with Reynolds’ weeping guitar accompanying Matthews, it goes to a whole new level.