Yet Another DMB Album
‘Live at Folsom Field’ Falls Short of Expectations
Live at Folsom Field, Boulder, Colorado
Dave Matthews Band
By my count, Live at Folsom Field is Dave Matthews Band’s fourth full-length live album. It’s quite an impressive accomplishment, considering the band has only released six studio albums. But throw it in your CD player, and you might be disappointed. Rather than containing the trademarked raw jam sessions that distinguish the band’s live performances, Folsom Field is a highly refined recording of a nondescript DMB concert. The band plays very well, but the CD lacks the energy that has popularized their previous live recordings.
Folsom Field comes at an awkward time for the band. Following the release of Everyday in 2001, DMB released Busted Stuff this July in response to fans’ trading the unreleased album on the Internet. Busted Stuff, known to fans as the Lillywhite Sessions, is more similar to the band’s earlier recordings than Everyday, which marked a divergence in the band’s style. As one would expect, Folsom Field contains mostly songs from these two newer albums, with the majority of their playing time dedicated to tracks from Everyday. And therein lies the problem.
It isn’t that Everyday was a bad album; it sold over 3 million copies, and personally I liked hearing the band playing a different style of music. The problem lies in the transition of the songs from the studio to the stage. Everyday moved the saxophone and violin to the background in most of the songs, almost completely removed their solos that were present on all previous releases. Without the solos, I imagined that it would be hard to differentiate the studio versions of the songs from the live versions, and this is exactly the case on Folsom Field. With the exception of “Angel” and possibly “So Right,” most of the songs from Everyday are indistinguishable from their live versions on “Folsom Field.”
Disc one opens with an older single, “Don’t Drink The Water,” from Before These Crowded Streets. Butch Taylor’s keyboards add something to the song that isn’t present on the studio recording, one of the few things on this CD that impressed me. Of next few songs, “So Right” and “Big Eyed Fish” are mediocre, highlighted in the latter as the crowd cheers not with the music, but with Dave’s cursing. “What You Are,” another track from Everyday, includes the addition of keyboards, but is still very similar to the album version. While the band’s performance on the old favorite “Crash Into Me” is good, I prefer the live version on Listener Supported.
Disc one closes with a rarity: two songs that are actually worse than their studio counterparts. “I Did It” and “If I Had It All,” both from Everyday, seem to drag on, despite their short length. The band seems disinterested and apathetic, which I find shocking considering their previous live albums.
“Angel,” which starts disc two, is the standout track on this album. Though it’s quite long, it shows heavy blues influence and includes background vocals by three women, Tawatha Agee, Cindy Mizelle, and Brenda White-King. The trio is quite amazing, and when combined with Butch Taylor’s piano and Leroi Moore’s saxophone, makes for an impressive song. Unfortunately, the mood is shattered in the next two, older tracks, “Warehouse” and “Recently.” The band plays these well, but once again, previous live versions, such as on Red Rocks, are much better.
Carter Beauford’s drumming has only gotten better, as heard in “Recently,” but the recording fails to bring it out as in older albums. The difference in the recording is especially noticeable in “What Would You Say,” in which the violin and sax are quieter than expected. “All Along The Watchtower,” DMB’s staple live song, is unique on Folsom Field because Dave plays the electric guitar solo. Disc two ends with a good rendition of “Stay (Wasting Time)” and a poor encore of “Two Step” and “Ants Marching.” The version of “Two Step” is similar to the one on Listener Supported, and includes Butch Taylor on piano. “Ants Marching” is sub-par for the band, and can’t compare at all to the version on Red Rocks.
In short, all the newer tracks sound similar to their studio versions, and all the older tracks are worse than the previously released live versions. I would only consider buying Folsom Field if I didn’t already own Everyday, but in that case, I would recommend buying Everyday instead. It’s a better album and will give you a better idea of where the band is headed than Folsom Field.