POP: Doing it their way

There always seems to be a band who are massive in the US charts but mean zilch over here.

Currently sitting at number six on the Billboard album chart are the Dave Matthews Band (below). Their previous two albums shifted around five million copies each, despite rock critics having a pop at them at every opportunity.

Formed in 1991, at the peak of grunge, the band offered a largely acoustic, jazz-flecked sound, with more than a slight tendency to veer into lengthy jams.

Within a few months, they landed a residency at the local rock club in the backwater college town of Charlottesville, Virginia, playing sets of up to four hours several nights a week. Allowing fans to tape their shows was a smart move as those tapes made their way across the south- eastern states and got the band bookings throughout the region.

For two years they played every type of gig - frat-house parties, beach clubs and other untrendy locations - before self-releasing a live album which sold in bulk and brought them to the attention of RCA.

As a result of the band's grass roots approach to the industry, they've spawned an inordinate number of fan pages on the Internet, topped the line-up of the HORDE travelling music festival (dubbed the untrendy equivalent of rock road show Lollapalooza), played sell-out shows at Giants Stadium (with no less than Beck as support) and generally become one of America's major bands.

Now with a third studio album, Before These Crowded Streets, it seems the right time for DMB to break into the European market. The album is a departure from the vibe of "What Would You Say" and other singalong anthems of DMB's early years. Hardly radio-friendly (the average track length is just short of seven minutes), Before These Crowded Streets is a dense patchwork of melody, jazz breaks and styles ranging from the semi- Pearl Jam sound of "Halloween" to the folkie "Spoon" featuring Alanis Morissette and banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck. Then there are the Arabic swirls that grace "The Last Stop" and a couple of tracks which feature the avant- garde, classical intervention of the Kronos Quartet.

In short, this is rock for big venues, and probably not of its decade. But there's no denying the band's ear for tight rhythms.

"I am the least competent musician of the five of us. This is much more of a band than is often portrayed," claims Matthews, speaking of the other group members as he gangles about the stage in a style that he has called a "goofy little leg spasm". It doesn't look cool, but then Matthews has always done his own thing.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see whether a band dubbed "unfashionable" by the critics can succeed in our style-obsessed isle.

Dave Matthews Band, Shepherd's Bush Empire, W12 (0181-740 7474) 23 Jun

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