Reissue Review: Dave Matthews Band — Remember Two Things

Reissues / Reviews / November 4, 2014

Group’s self-released debut gets double-LP treatment, but lacks vibrancy

Sony Legacy

For those who first became enamored with the Dave Matthews Band during the Under the Table and Dreaming days, Remember Two Things was a much-treasured peak behind the curtain at the time. Originally self-released by the band under Matthews’ Bama Rags label in 1993, with little means of distribution other than merch tables at shows, it became reissued on CD by RCA once radio got behind singles like “What Would You Say?” and the quintet became an amphitheater-filling force of nature. It would give those newly ravenous fans early versions of what would soon become greatest hits (“Ants Marching,” “Satellite”) as well as perennial live favorites that hadn’t yet made it to a proper LP (“Tripping Billies,” which wound up on 1996’s mega-hit Crash). The album eventually went platinum in 2002, almost 10 years after its original release.

Yet, for a band that arguably got better as they explored darker themes (1998’s Before These Crowded Streets displayed a much-needed grit to balance the feel-goodness of their shows), the recent double LP pressing of Remember only tends to accentuate the lack of power the group had before RCA came calling, even as a massive draw in native Virginia. It’s still a peak behind the curtain, but one that only forgiving die hards will truly need.

Even DMB’s biggest detractors can admit that the group are flawless musicians, and there’s no argument on Remember in that sense. Nearly all of the album was recorded live at small club performances on the east coast, with the exception of a handful of studio cuts, and that setting has always been the bread-and-butter for Matthews and company. To that end, the group’s attention to dynamics on cuts like the calypso-tinged “Recently” should be applauded: No one member overly showboats or controls the tune (and in a jam-band genre like DMB’s, this is especially tough). Even drummer Carter Beauford, who brings a haltingly complicated rhythm to the gentle 4/4 shuffle on “One Sweet World,” is playing solely for the good of the song. There’s a reason Matthews himself has never been all that flashy of a guitar player, and it’s to showcase those around him as well as his own clever, if mush-mouthed, wordplay. 

Speaking of which, Matthews himself was becoming deft at turns of phrase during the band’s infancy on occasion, but there are more than a few lyrical clunkers that show his youth: In-concert favorite “Seek Up” is a sleepy, anti-greed journal entry that would be typical of an open mic night at any dorm (“Look at me in my fancy car/And my bank account”) and the gorgeously finger-picked “Christmas Song” loses some needed emotional weight when Matthews, as Jesus, refers to God as “Daddy-O.” Matthews has never been brilliant whether embracing life or mulling over death — and much of his discography is knee-deep in one or the other — but these early attempts at deep social commentary still stick out like sore thumbs. Closing the album out with the fading sounds of thunderstorms and crickets is a bold but self-serious and unnecessary move for a group seeking to make some sort of social impact early in their career, but it also points to at least some effort being taken: It’s clear DMB wanted to say something, even if they were mildly testing the waters of what that may have been.

While DMB die hards may disagree, it’s as if Remember Two Things is still stuck with an invisible asterisk of some sort. It’s neither a live album nor a studio record; it’s not a must-have nor an avoidable monstrosity; even Rick Kwiatkowski’s Magic Eye artwork and color scheme are blandly non-committal (and haven’t aged well). Despite the limitless talent creating it, Remember sounds hospital-level sterile, a huge detriment for an album that’s clearly attempted to evoke lots of depth and color. If polled, chances are those who have dedicated their summers to following DMB on tour would admit that the band found their true voice — their oomph — on the RCA-funded, major hit records, so if anything, revisiting this one over 20 years later allows a greater appreciation for everything that came after. With Under the Table making its way to vinyl for the first time later this month, that’ll be a project that many will be more than willing to take on.

Sound Quality

This record was played on a U-Turn Orbit Plus turntable with a Grado Black1 cartridge.

Remember has always sported a tinny mix, and even on the loudest moments here, it’s as if the neighbors shouldn’t be woken up, though that could be argued that it’s all in the delivery. Later singles like “Too Much” or “Don’t Drink The Water” sound downright Godzilla-esque compared to the light, tap-dancey nature of almost anything offered here, despite Beauford’s snare booming with echo like that off a Def Leppard albumGranted, with the aforementioned live nature of the record, the group hadn’t yet toyed with many options for beefing up their sound and the studio tracks that are here (the eastern-influenced “Minarets” and the previously mentioned “Seek Up”) are more meandering than precise in their exploratory nature, but even with original album engineer David Glasser heading up this remaster, and new vinyl lacquers being cut by Chris Bellman at Bernie Grundman Mastering (Grundman’s work on the ORG pressing of Nirvana’s In Utero is breathtakingly immense), there’s a definite lack of warmth and punch overall. Bass and guitars are full, but not extremely kinetic. Even with today’s audio enhancements and vinyl workmanship, it’s doubtful much could really be done with what was then a local band’s first foray into album-making.

Packaging

The two LPs come in sleek, black poly-lined sleeves, which was an unexpected plus. While the rare and unreleased snapshots that the hype sticker promotes are appreciated, the quality of those chosen could be debated. The gatefold’s black-and-white live shot of the band, for instance, comes across as grainy rather than a riveting blast from the past. Yet, an interesting choice was made to double that photo on the inner part of each end of the gatefold, which is something this reviewer hasn’t seen much of. Though surely upping the cost to the consumer, a neat juxtaposition with the same idea would’ve been to have the gatefold be in color and the inner portion black-and-white. Elsewhere, each copy is gold-stamp numbered (official count of this pressing could not be verified) and printed on partly recycled material. It’s glossy, but adheres to the original album’s look and feel.

Extras

A download card of the full album plus two non-vinyl bonus tracks (early takes on “Pay For What You Get” and “Typical Situation,” both of which eventually appeared fully developed on Under the Table and Dreaming) is included, as well as an eight-page, 12″ booklet with more rare, richly-colored photos and full lyrics.

Summary

Though not a hodge-podge of cruddy demos, Remember Two Things is still far from Dave Matthews Band’s crowning achievement. This will be an appreciated addition to any dedicated DMB collector’s stash, but fans on the fence probably won’t need to bother.

Make Sure To Spin

“I’ll Back You Up,” “Ants Marching” and “Tripping Billies.”


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Jim Hanke
Jim Hanke has been a contributing writer to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Prefix Magazine and SharingNeedlesWithFriends.com, as well as a co-host for the Sock Monkey Sound podcast and "Liner Notes," a music-discussion program on WRRG in River Grove, IL. A Milwaukee native, Jim also assists Chicago-area groups with publicity via his own Forest Bride PR imprint.






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