Screw all y’all, it’s been, like, 20 years and I refuse to feel bad about my unshakable fondness for the Dave Matthews Band.
There’s a lot of music that sounds like warm weather but Before These Crowded Streets (BTCS) was among the first. From the moment one of my oldest friends lent me this CD and told me to give it an earnest listen in the warmth of our dwindling sophomore year, I was hooked, classic-rock foundation and a nascent but ruthless emo-kid scorn for everything even vaguely popular notwithstanding. And, god, was DMB ever omnipresent for a while.
But the band’s real magic is both in the stuff that never got radio play and their live-show experience. Being treated to three different versions of this song that I love, a song that embodies those elements so well that it’s so easy to love undiminished for two decade, is such a wonderfully timed example of how some songs feel like home no matter what but really belong to a time of year. Few things sound like both springtime and summer (the former for the discovery, the latter for the ubiquitous concerts) like DMB does, and listening to a song I love in its native weather is one of those little oases of pure joy that life offers in abundance if you thrive in moments of sensory immersion.
I first heard “Crush” in the context of BTCS—my favorite DMB album, studio or live—which is where a bunch of my favorite songs live. And while the live albums capture that mutability of songs already beginning at a deliciously indulgent six minutes, a lot of the songs on BTCS had an awful lot going on just as studio tracks.
Thing is, any one of them has to do something incredible to stand out despite dangerous proximity to what’s probably my favorite DMB song; “Crush” itself follows that song (“The Stone“), a fate plenty of good tunes have suffered from and only a few ever transcend to become part of a really satisfying musical twofer (“That’s the Way” following “Tangerine” on Zep III is really the best example I can think of—and an appropriate one, since Dave Matthews covering “Tangerine” is my favorite cover of what just might be my all-time favorite song). Which is a long way of saying that “Crush” has the unenviable position of following up a song I cannot listen to just once and, rather than become that thing I unintentionally avoid for 20 minutes because I’m busy putting its predecessor on infinite, giddy repeat, it’s become like the second part making a beautiful musical experience even better.
And even though I haven’t listened to DMB all that much since high school, it says a lot about the magic of these songs (and nostalgia itself, I suppose) that I can return to a beloved album decades after falling in love with it and still feel that rush of fondness from the very first note, with my favorite moments still somehow rising above it all and reminding me why they stand out as something extra special, even after packing more than a lifetime of experience between the first time we met and this most recent encounter.