I’ve always had the notion that the nostalgia-act label was foremost an indictment of a band too proud to call it quits, too unwilling to reconcile with the fact that their creative well has run dry, too scared to see what lies far and beyond the stage. Just play the hits, man. That’s what they want. Let’s take this old car out on the road. We can drive this thing so deep into the ground it’ll look like we wanted to be there all along. External factors like overzealous fans too emotionally invested to move on or overbearing management too preoccupied with dollar signs are simply secondary, tertiary elements, just a small part of the Big Picture: A band who can’t hang it up won’t because they’ll tour for as long as the universe lets them, coasting along on their own nostalgia, goodwill, and individual tour buses.
But at some point last week, maybe while holding a pair of Dave Matthews Band lawn tickets; maybe while making plans to smuggle alcohol into the Spa State Park; maybe while consuming that alcohol in the park under a blanket of noise provided by police ATV engines revving and horse hooves clomping; maybe while hearing the same sets and songs and sounds and chants I heard all throughout my impressionable high school summers, a point was clearly illustrated: I am the nostalgia act.
How could I think any different? It’s all of us. We’re the nostalgia act, save the newest generation of fans closer to sharing a birthday with a piece of shit like Everyday rather than one of the band’s early albums. The younger the fan, the more removed from what they think they’re supposed to be hearing, clinging to and participating in some vestigial rite of passage simply because they’re of a certain age, a certain socioeconomic background, and soon, in a few more years, graduating from high school.
It’s not Dave Matthews Band’s fault, though. Really. They’ve been touring consistently for more than 20 years. They’ve averaged an album every two and a half years, roughly. They’ve clearly, incessantly, relentlessly defined what they’re about as a band and as an organization. Can you fault a band who have, time and again, shown us the way they make their music? Road-test new material, retreat to the studio, scrap it all, start anew. Why should they change that formula now? Can you fault a band who are more interested in digging into their catalog for scraps off their worst album, and playing that album’s third fucking radio single, than, hell, almost any other song in their bag? (I’m looking at “Everybody Wake Up,” played night two. But here, really, ranking their “worst” is like ranking your favorite shit-flavored candy.)
The answer is yes. Yes you can fault them. But if you are faulting them, you’re already miles away from a tour like this. If you’re still showing up, chasing fucking tour debuts and song debuts and that deep, deep cut you’ve never heard live, the fault falls squarely on your shoulders. This is not a band coming off a 10-year hiatus to string together an amphitheater tour where they crack into their back catalog while a deliriously giddy management team throws some EQ on old tapes and launches a remaster collection. This is a band repeating their own history, tour after tour, year after year. And if you’re still engaged with this band, you have no right to complain and no right to expect anything different.
So, if the money is still there, and fans are still willing to turn out in droves—fans you can bait with ideas like “linking up with an old producer” or the promise of “new material coming soon!”—you can still pump the same setlists into their ear canals, still peddle the same rehashed live release collection—Volume 22, released Sunday, $15.99—and still end up with enough new time and new money and new friends to start that vineyard you’ve always wanted: Dreaming Tree North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon, $14.99.