Photo: REX USA/Ilpo Musto/Rex.
In the glorious world of ‘90s pop, there were no rules. If you had a beat, a melody, and half an idea, you stood a decent chance of getting on the radio or MTV. Zoot suits and genie pants were A-okay, and if you were wondering whether you could employ a couple of trombone players or mix turntables with metal guitars, those daffy Spin Doctors had your answer: “Just go ahead now!”
You could even do what the Dave Matthews Band did and form a multi-racial jazz-funk jam band featuring fiddle and saxophone. Today, Sony Legacy reissues Remember Two Things, DMB’s 1993 debut, and while the album, like the group itself, has yet to benefit from the current wave of ‘90s nostalgia and receive a critical reappraisal, it totally deserves one. No, really.
When approaching Remember Two Things circa now, it helps to, well, remember two things. First, this was ’93, and that autostereogram on the cover was the pinnacle of both fine art and computer technology. If you stared long enough at the Monet-looking image — magnificently colored in Charlotte Hornets purple and turquoise — you’d see a hand making a peace sign. You didn't even have to be high, though it probably didn't hurt.
The more important thing to keep in mind: The record dropped before Dave and company hit it big and started playing the amphitheater in your hometown every summer, attracting their unsavory assortment of crunchies and white-capped frat boys. This CD — and that’s the preferred listening format — deserves to be judged purely on the basis of the music it holds, and there’s some winning stuff there.
Photo: Courtesy of Bama Rags/RCA/Legacy Recordings.
Comprising eight live cuts and two studio recordings, Remember Two Things opens with a whole mess of snare hits — the preface, of course, to “Ants Marching,” the song that spawned a jillion high school yearbook quotes. “Ants” is pure pop uplift, and it's a crowd favorite for a reason, but “Tripping Billies” is even more impressive, what with those grating hoedown breakdowns and awful lyrics about hanging on the beach and wearing “pineapple grass bracelets.” This is DMB’s utopian aesthetic shot down your throat like a rush of funneled Coors Light, and yet somehow, it doesn’t make you boot.
Ditto “One Sweet World” and “The Song That Jane Likes,” on which Dave, coming on like a patchouli-scented David Byrne, asks, “Would you like to play / with a fool holding hands with a one-eyed Jack of Spades?” If you answer “yes,” then proceed to the next track, “Minarets,” a spooky Middle Eastern adventure designed to get you thinking about god and man and heavy stuff like that. The contemplative mood carries over to the verses of “Seek Up,” but then the chorus hits, and the sweet sax and fiddle clear a space for you on the kappa-alpha-whatever house couch and tell you to “fall back again.”
DMB wasn't Nirvana or REM, and it's only become less relevant over the years, but in those early days, the Virginia quintet embodied the decade's bizarro optimism and anything-goes spirit better than just about anyone. This was a 60% African American band fronted by a white South African bartender with crazy eyes, restless legs, and the ability to make a line like, “Rest high above the clouds, no restriction” sound like more than a sales pitch from the guy on your dorm floor hawking ‘shrooms.
Later in the decade, the band's sound grew poppier and turned its members into millionaires with separate tour buses, but on Remember Two Things and its mega-selling 1994 follow-up, Under the Table and Dreaming, they’re just a bunch of young showoffs who want to twirl you around for an hour or so and maybe get you to tell a friend. The divergent musical pieces shouldn’t fit together, and a lot of the time, they don’t. But, every now and then, the swirl-up of smooth jazz and bluegrass goes from goofy and ponderous to something not altogether unpleasant. No, really.