CD Review of Live at Radio City Music Hall by Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds

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Live at Radio City Music Hall
starstarstarno starno star Label: RCA
Released: 2007
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Since beginning his major-label recording career in 1994, Dave Matthews has released approximately 600 live albums, at the rate of one approximately every week and a half. The novelty of hearing Matthews’ songs in a live setting has long since worn off, so there are essentially two ways of looking at each new piece of concert-derived product:

  1. Hey, look – another Dave Matthews live album. I wonder what he did differently this time around?
  2. Hey, look – another damn Dave Matthews live album.

Matthews seems like a nice enough guy – self-effacing star, concerned about the world he lives in, affectionate father and husband – but it’s hard not to wonder how he justifies continually repackaging the same songs to the same audience. Even the slight twist behind Radio City – it isn’t a Dave Matthews Band album, but a two-disc set recorded with longtime cohort Tim Reynolds – isn’t new; the duo released another two-disc live album, Live at Luther College, in 1999.

Now for the good news. Luther College was a minor late ‘90s classic – in a dense fog of Dave Matthews live product, it stood out like a beacon, offering both hardcore and casual fans the opportunity to hear DMB songs in a new context. Say what you will about Matthews’ music – and it seems to provoke curiously passionate responses on either side of the board – but Luther College made a persuasive argument for his gifts as a songwriter. Stripped of their woolly jam-band trappings, the songs stood tall – some of them even taller than their studio counterparts. For listeners who might have written him off as a practitioner of insubstantial jammy drivel, the album was almost a revelation.

None of that necessitated a follow-up, but all in all, Live at Radio City is an enjoyable listen for all the same reasons Luther College was so much fun: Matthews sounds loose and relaxed – his slurred between-song banter suggests he might be a little too relaxed, in fact – and Reynolds proves, as ever, a stellar foil, spooling out tasty solos without ever allowing the songs to drift into the patchouli-scented ether. It isn’t as consistent as its predecessor, and Matthews is apparently laboring under the mistaken belief that the world needed yet another cover of Neil Young’s “Down by the River,” but it serves as a pleasant reminder of what so many people like about Dave Matthews as a performer.

It’s worth noting that, over a decade into his recording career, Matthews is clearly far more comfortable on stage than in the studio; the Dave Matthews Band’s records limp further from the loose-limbed charm of their debut with each subsequent release. Contrast the relaxed vibe of Live at Radio City with the mess that was 2005’s Stand Up, and it’s hard not to think that it might not be the worst idea for the DMB to cut its next new set live in front of an audience, Joe Jackson-style. It beats squeezing a few more bucks out of the same songs with yet another live album, anyway.

~Jeff Giles