Saturday, February 16, 2013

Radiohead vs Dave Matthews Band

My brother is a junior in college, at the age when passion naturally flows into debates about which band is the greatest ever, speculations on eschatology, and the like. He's a connoisseur of contemporary music, and puts Radiohead at the top of the pile. I have been since adolescence and remain today a dmb votary, so when he baited me by asserting that Radiohead is the better band, I bit. I asked, "Who's going to be remembered a generation from now?"

His arguments for Radiohead: The songwriting is cohesive and credited to all five members (dmb's is mostly to the band's eponymous lead singer), band membership has been stable for three decades (dmb saxophonist Leroi Moore died in '08 and there have been both previous and subsequent member acquisitions and resignations), the band is album-focused and albums are what last through the years (roughly half of dmb's song library has never been recorded in studio), they show up on many contemporary lists of greatest active bands (dmb never does), they've pushed the envelope musically more than just about any other major act has over the last couple of decades, and they don't make anything of suboptimal quality (dmb has Stand Up).

Mine: The top grossing and ticket selling musical act of the 2000s. Beat Kenny Chesney, Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Celine Dion, Madonna, Elton John, the Eagles, Jimmy Buffet, and anyone else you can think of (no Radiohead here--this is the majors, not the farm league). If that's not enough, they've had the most consecutive #1 Billboard album debuts in the chart's history, ahead of the likes of Metallica, Eminem, Madonna, and U2. They've got Radiohead on the diversity front--four black guys (including Rashawn Ross) and a native African beats a bunch of white guys from England. They've got them on musical diversity as well--mainstreaming the fiddle, horns, saxophones, and soul vocals isn't an easy task. Dmb's appeal is wider--women listen (they don't really to Radiohead) and the age range is wider. When it comes to improvisation, there's really no contest:

Another factor, however, that suggests posterity might favor Radiohead is that music critics adore them while having never embraced dmb (Jim DeRogatis' 1998 review in Rolling Stone magazine epitomizing this) for a host of speculative reasons: The band's diversity integrates in the wrong direction--it features black guys doing 'white' things (playing instruments but not singing) and draws overwhelmingly white crowds who are, contrary to uninterested conventional belief (that pegs them as hippies), primarily frat boy yuppie types who grew into accountants and financial advisers; Dave's voice is an acquired taste; the music isn't tight enough to fit the three-minute-ditty template and, at least from afar, the atmosphere feels too much like the one the Grateful Dead inhabited a generation before; and the focus is on making stuff that is euphonious rather than novel, experimental, or danceable.

Since I've lost all but those who happen to share my enjoyment of dmb, a suggestion for a group that rumor and speculation suggest might be on another precipice--bring to studio the golden stuff that has never found its way into the studio (loosely including RTT). How about this for a prospective album (produced by Lillywhite, without negotiability)?

Granny (opening lines are perfect to open an album)
Idea of You
Break Free
Sweet Up and Down
Sugar Will
Kind Intentions
#40 (the first nine being something of a story of the initial meetup that turned into a lifelong relationship) Spotlight
Toy Soldiers (these two because they're poetically great)
Blue Water Baboon Farm (fits the same mold as Bartender, Spoon, Proudest Monkey, and Drunken Soldier as album sendoffs)


Anonymous said...

This analogy should make you both happy -- dmb : Radiohead :: The Eagles or Jimmy Buffett : Pink Floyd or Rush.

Steve Sailer said...

As an old guy, the only Radiohead song I know is "Creep," which they often won't play in concert because it's too popular. If I had a cigarette lighter, it would be fun to hold it up while Radiohead came out for an encore and shout "Play 'Creep!'" It would probably drive them crazy about the quality of fans they are attracting.

Frost said...

I love Radiohead. Definitely one of my top five contemporary groups, and they've written some truly beautiful songs.

But I would never get excited to go to a Radiohead concert. Why am I going to pay fifty bucks to hear rough, sloppy versions of great songs?

DMB on the other hand does not just adequately perform live... Luther College is my favourite DM/DMB release of all time. Central Park is up there as well. DMB is simply one of the only acts out there that is frequently better live than in the studio.

That's why I've been to and had an incredible time at 10+ DMB concerts, but generally would rather listen to other music on my own than in a jammed concert hall with bad sound quality and sloppy performance.

When you go to a live DMB concert, you see something different and maybe even better than what you get on the studio albums.

As for who will be more remembered... If I were a chin-on-hand Gladwell-clone, modern journalist, I might try and write a 10k word article on how file sharing has reduced the importance of studio releases in favour of the ability to create a good live experience.

Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to set up a youtube playlist of the aol solo sessions.


Jokah Macpherson said...

I think the best way to decide who is better is based on the number of HBD-themed blogs there are named after the bands' songs/lyrics. Using this metric, Radiohead comes out on top, although if you'd measured seven years ago or so it would probably be DMB instead.

Audacious Epigone said...


Wow, nailed it (and us, personally) with the first set of the analogy.


You think they'd scoff at a more diverse fan base? Granted, generational diversity doesn't count for much. Come to think of it, being a middle-aged white guy (like the members of Radiohead), you're anti-diversity, even if your absence makes the crowd less diverse. Funny how that works.


Beautiful man, beautiful. You essentially anticipated and summarized the truce my brother and I drew.

L@LC: The warehouse intro is my pre-game favorite.

If by chance you make it to the Gorge or Alpine (sort of close to you if you'll be on this side of the Atlantic) this summer, I insist on a meetup.


Heh, seriously? List some, please, I've got nothing.

Anonymous said...

Good lord, DMB is the most boring live band ever. I never liked DMB because I found their cult-like following indicative of personality devoid youth trying to establish an identity. Despite this, once during a summer in college I was invited to see them for free at Alpine Valley in WI and though under the influence of multiple inebriants, I found their show quite mundane. Not only did they fail to demonstrate any particular skill in playing their instruments or construct an experience that was particularly invigorating, I found their lyrics uninspired and their composition structure typical.

I am quite aware many enjoy their music both out of nostalgia and general preference for their "jammy vibe," but they are pretty shoddy in my opinion. Perhaps I am just a hater and I am too biased because of my view of my local fan base during HS, but I can think of at least 25 bands that are better than DAAAAAAAAVE.

Audacious Epigone said...

DMB is the most boring live band ever

That's hard to square with the most tickets sold of any live act in the US over the last decade. Personal preference, obviously, but not at all a representative one.

ziel said...

Is Crash any good? It's on Amazon right now for $2.99 (mp3).

I've got OK Computer and Kid A that I also bought for 2.99 on Amazon. I listened through OK Computer once on a plane, but I think I'd have to give it another listen or two to uncover it's slightly inaccessible genius - hopefully it doesn't require certain herbal supplements to do so, as I've long sworn off that.

I kind of like DM's solo album Some Devil, but I never could get into the Band - not because they're not a good band - clearly better talented players than typical rock bands - but it just never clicked.

I suppose it's possible that I'm just too old to really enjoy anything made after, oh, the early 90's, any more than my father could have possibly every enjoyed Who's Next.

Audacious Epigone said...


Crash is one of the so-called "big three" (along with Under the table and dreaming and Before these crowded streets) that are generally considered to be the band's best albums. Give Two Step or #41 a listen on youtube and see what you think. That'll give you a good flavor to evaluate.

ziel said...

Thanks - I downloaded Crash and Under the Table - they were both 2.99 (I'm real cheap). Hopefully I'll find some time to listen.

Justthisguy said...

Pop music leaves me mostly cold. I am partial to the music of people like Telemann, Bach, Mozart, etc. The only modern music I care for was composed by people like Alford, Sousa, and Teike, and their ilk.
Oh, and Holst.

There is nothing wrong with any rock band ever assembled which can't be fixed with a fire axe and a Thompson. (the former for the "instruments", the latter for the "musicians.")r

Anonymous said...

By Dave Matthews

Every time I buy a Radiohead album, I have a moment where I say to myself, "Maybe this is the one that will suck." But it never does. I wonder if it's even possible for them to be bad on record.

It belittles Radiohead to describe their music as having "hooks." Their music talks to you, in a real way. It can take you down a quiet street before it drops a beautiful musical bomb on you. It can build to where you think the whole thing will crumble beneath its own weight — and then Thom Yorke will sing some melody that just cuts your heart out of your chest. There's a point on the album Kid A where I start feeling claustrophobic, stuck in a barbed-wire jungle — and then I suddenly fall out and I'm sitting by a pool with birds singing. Radiohead can do all of these things in a moment, and it drives me fucking crazy.

My reaction to Radiohead isn't as simple as jealousy. Jealousy just burns; Radiohead infuriate me. But if it were only that, I wouldn't go back and listen to those records again and again. Listening to Radiohead makes me feel like I'm a Salieri to their Mozart. Yorke's lyrics make me want to give up. I could never in my wildest dreams find something as beautiful as they find for a single song — let alone album after album. And every time, they raise their finger to the press and the critics and say, "Nothing we do is for you!" They followed their most critically acclaimed record, OK Computer, with their most radical change, Kid A. It's not that they're indifferent — it's that the strength of character in their music is beyond their control.

Seeing them perform makes me even angrier. No matter how much they let go in their shows, they never lose their clarity. There's no point where Jonny Greenwood or Ed O'Brien will suddenly look up and say, "Where the fuck are we?" There are no train wrecks in Radiohead; every album and performance is wrenching. God, these guys have suffered, or they can fake it like nobody else.

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Mike Numberlan said...

Original comment may not have been posted, sorry if repeated.

Also, I know this blog is wayyyy old, but I stumbled upon it and thought I'd share.

I am 28 now. I spent a lot of my teenage years and thereafter, uncertain whether Radiohead or DMB was my all-time favorite band. It really depended on what day you asked me. I would go to many DMB shows, as they're a bit more accessible in North America, but have also been to Radiohead shows as well. In response to an earlier comment: they're great live; they do not play sloppy versions of good songs.

I went to see Dave & Tim play in Saratoga Springs a few weeks ago. I had not actively thought for a while before this "which band is my favorite?" like when I was younger, but it finally occurred to me which one: Radiohead. By a very, very long shot.

Aside from this, I have to give DMB credit for mixing it up setlist-wise. They do this better than Radiohead. Whether you hate or love DMB, you have to give them credit for this because not many bands are as variable and surprising with their live setlist.

BUT that's not much of an aspect for what makes my favorite band-my favorite band. During the D&T show, they started up "Funny the Way It Is", a song which, even when it was released (I was excited when the single was released; LeRoi Moore had passed the summer prior, and it was elating to hear this single released, DMB still chugging on) I thought the lyrics sounded like they could be written on a Hallmark card. That's ok, because lyrics aren't always Dave's strong suit. A fan behind me leaned over to his buddy and said "listen to the lyrics here, this song changed my life," and it occurred to me why I cannot like DMB to the caliber I love Radiohead anymore. Dave simply does not convince me. He doesn't speak to me like Thom Yorke consistently does. Save for a couple songs like Don't Drink the Water or Bartender - I feel like he is not trying lyrically. I feel like it to the extent that even Dave himself must know this. While Funny the Way It Is, among other songs, can be fun to dance around to or make you feel good temporarily, they also sound half-assed, and I'd argue that anybody who is truly "moved" or convinced by FTWII is an idiot.

I am not trying to Dave-bash. I am not a Radiohead-elitist who hates Dave Matthews cos of the fanbase (like I said, I've been to many DMB shows). I am simply unconvinced by Dave, at least the way I am by Thom Yorke. It does not mean I will never listen to Dave Matthews songs again, but they are not favorite band material anymore. And this is not a "Now they are #2" sort of thing. It's this realization about truly being convinced and moved by music that really shoot DMB down my band list.

Audacious Epigone said...


That complaint is one shared by many long-time nancies, but it doesn't characterize Dave's entire career.

Listen to Warehouse as a metaphor for life (the song as a metaphor for life, that is--the "warehouse" in the song as a metaphor for the physical body) told from the perspective of a man in his dying moments.

Listen to The Stone as told from the perspective of his late brother-in-law, the man who murdered Dave's sister in a murder-suicide. Listen to it live--the abrupt madness breakdown seals it.

I'd be happy to provide more. The pickings get very slim after the Lillywhite Sessions, though. The big three--Under the table and dreaming, Crash, and Before these crowded streets--are full of beautifully written songs.