Jam bands: love them or hate them?

Jam bands seem to be a love it or hate it thing, at least among the people I know. To a lot of my music-oriented friends, “jam band” is a huge pejorative. I always hear people making fun of them, generally associating them with over-extended, show-offy soloing and overly-bouncy beats. Others are deeply into them - for instance, I see stickers for moe. on cars all the time, and I always hear people talking about how great various jam band shows have been.

Up until recently, I never really listened to any of this music, but lately I’ve been listening to samples on iTunes. And I’ve found that I almost universally hate all the songs by the following bands: String Cheese Incident, moe. , Widespread Panic, Disco Biscuits, and Particle. I don’t know what it is about them - they just seem soulless to me. Overly clean, cheerfully insistent beats, tweedly-sounding, repetitive guitar riffs, long jack-off solos, and uniformly white-boy-desperately-trying-to-sound-soulful lyrics. There’s just something goofy and silly about all the songs - in a bad way. It’s not like I can’t listen to music that’s a little silly - They Might Be Giants and Pavement are often silly also, but I dig them. I just can’t get into the whole jam band thing, I guess.

Is the problem that I need to be at one of these bands’ shows to truly appreciate them? I mean, I think all music is better live, but is there something about jam bands that makes them seem soulless in recordings and soulful live? Do the people who are really into jam bands also hate the studio recordings, and prefer to listen to bootlegs or something?

What do the other dopers here think about jam bands? Are there any people here who follow these bands around and go to all their shows?

I despise them. I lived with a couple Dead/Phish heads for a few months. That is all they’d play. I’m convinced it is more about the drugs than about the music. With enough chemicals, I’m sure a six year old’s version of Mary Had a Little Lamb would sound divinely inspired.

I like jam bands from the 90s. Dave Mathews Band, Blues Traveler, Rusted Root, Spin Doctors, O.A.R., Big Head Todd. To a certain extent, I also like the Dead and The Allman Brothers but other than a few catchy songs, I don’t much care for the aimless, silly ramblings of Phish.

I think the music is no so much for listening to, but for just hanging around outside at some open ampitheter festival concert getting high.

I live in one of the hotbeads of Jam Band life, and am a musician, and am . . . indifferent. There are some great songs, but in general I’ll pass on most of it, because there’s only so much straight-ahead pentatonic soloing I have room for, and I think I’ve reached my quota already.

There are some great Phish songs, great Dead songs, great Allman Bros. songs, but in between each great song are ten other songs that are just filler.

ETA: Which is not to say that any of these guys aren’t great musicians. They’re just not my cup of tea, typically.

When high, they can be entertaining…when not high, not so much :slight_smile:

Having seen a few of them in my day, I think there’s a lot of boring, aimless noodling to put up with for the few cool musical ideas and moments that come out of it. I mean, String Cheese Incident or Widespread Panic can jam on the same piece of music for 20 minutes, easily, and afterwards there are only one or two little moments that you really remember.


OneCentStamp, who loves the Ramones, if that tells you anything.

I used to like Phish and Dave Matthews Band between 11th grade and sophomore year of college (1995-98, let’s say). I only knew them from their studio albums, which I quite liked. Both bands contain great musicians, as many jam bands do. But I never cared for Phish’s lyrics (mostly written by an outside lyricist), and when I saw them live in the fall of 1996, I was severely unimpressed by their masturbatory meanderings and lack of “inter-song banter.” I was the only one in the entire dome arena who wasn’t stoned, and I was bored out of my gourd (hey, that sounds like a Phish song title!) I was never much of a fan after that, but I still admit Trey Anastasio is a pretty great guitarist.

As for DMB, you may or may not know what it’s like for EVERYONE at your damn school to be obsessed with them. That’s what it was like at UF in the late '90s, with every Abercrombie-wearing frat boy in khaki shorts, Birkenstocks, a backwards cap, and a puka-shell necklace to be on a first-name basis with “Dave,” and every girl to name the Crash CD as something she’d take to a desert island (usually forgetting to bring a CD player or even a power source). I liked them because I am a sax player and it was cool to hear sax in a cool, popular rock band that a lot of girls were into, but that got old really quickly. I thought their third album (the one with “Too Much”) was horrible, and tuned out after that. Before long, all the girls who mooned over Dave got crushes on John Mayer, or occasionally Justin Timberlake when he went solo.

I also walked out of a Widespread Panic concert after two songs, since it was the worst crap I had ever heard.

As a straight edge teen, I so did not get the love of the Grateful Dead and similar bands, at all. Even as I got older and became a hippie chick, I was really meh about them (with the exception of “Ripple”, natch.) It wasn’t I took a road trip with a bunch of other stoners, listening to the Dead while driving through the backroads of Vermont at 4 in the morning on a crisp autumn day that I suddenly “got it.” Sweet. :cool:

Kind of hate. On the one hand, I do listen to some bands that get lumped into the category. On the other hand, I think the bands I like are more song-oriented and don’t take the “aren’t we goofy!” approach to music that ticks me off.

I could have written this post. I’m two years behind you, but I remember the first time some girl was talking about how she was going to go see Dave one weekend, and I was trying to figure out which mutual friend Dave we had that she might be going to see. :rolleyes:
I love the album Under The Table And Dreaming, but frankly I think his songwriting began to take a sharp nose dive.

I have a very short attention span. I can’t get in to jam bands at all.

I’ve seen Widespread Panic, and the Dead, and Phish, and several other jam bands. I like going to the shows because it is an “experience”. I’ve been sober about half the time, and I will say it’s more fun when you are drunk or stoned, but I enjoy it either way. I like to see the people there, and the funny little marketplaces that appear in the parking lots, all that sort of thing. For me, it’s not really about the music, per se, but about being a fun thing to go to. My SO likes the music quite a bit though, and I’m not sure if I would go if it weren’t for him. I was actually really surprised how much I enjoyed myself the first time we went, because I HATE listening to any of that kind of music on a CD or whatever. It’s just very very boring to me. They are talented musicians, of course, but it just goes on and on! And the songs mostly all sound the same (to me). There are a couple I like, I suppose, but I would never put in a Grateful Dead CD if I were alone. Does that answer your question?

Dave Matthews Not That Into Himself Anymore

The standard uniform at my school was a backwards South Carolina Game Cocks (IOW “COCKS”) baseball hat that they destroyed so it looked like it was 10 years old, Absolut [Insert College Here] T-Shirt over a long-sleeve waffle-T, North Face fleece pullover, Abercrombie cargo shorts and Birkenstocks.
Blues Traveler was still a fun band to see in concert though.

Believe me, I know. I could write a whole book about it.

Incidentally, I don’t mind DMB and I’ve never really lumped them in with the other jam bands. Dave’s newer solo-type stuff, I could do without. But I loved his early albums. They’re full of unique instrumentation and world-music influences which are actually pulled off well. I also played sax when DMB first started to become popular, and your experience seems similar to mine. I think I liked Beneath These Crowded Streets the best. The thing is, I hate the DMB fans. So while I would personally love to sit and talk with Dave Matthews and his band for a while, I wouldn’t want to see their show.

I’ve heard good LSD is a lot harder to come by these days.

Can somebody cure my ignorance and explain just exactly what a jam band is? I’ve heard the term before but have never been really clear on it.

I really haven’t been into jam band music for years now, and get turned off to most of it pretty quickly these days (with the exception of the Dead). But once upon another time in a land far, far away, it was my thing and so I can say fairly confidentally that I understand the phenomenon.

I discovered the Dead while in HS (circa '90) and Phish in college (c. '93). I also played (and play) guitar and, though I’ve since studied and composed classical and jazz (and a variety of other musics), when I first began playing I very naturally took to the jam style.

For me, I began playing it before I knew there was actually a musical genre and scene for it. I very quickly learned my scales and loved just getting a groove going and improvising with it. I had a Yamaha keyboard that would play pre-programmed beats and accompaniments in any key and so I could just have it play in A major (for example) for as long as I wanted while I noodled around on the guitar.

This is one of the important basic ideas behind it, from a musical perspective: static harmony, grooving rhythm, open-ended structure. You don’t need to know much about music theory, or deal with complex rhythms and sudden key changes. (these are all, of course, huge generalizations). With a little knowledge and some technical skill you can very passively just go with it and experience the energy transfer between players.

The other important aspect is the experience from the listener’s point of view, which is quite different from most other forms of music. Typically, you go to a concert to see a show. Jam band concerts are more like parties where the band just happens to be the guys providing the music.

Ok, admittedly, this is a terribly inadequate attempt at explaining the phenomenon, but, I’m at work and I keep getting interrupted, so I’ll just leave it be for now.

In any case, you really either dig it or you don’t. I don’t believe that’s true of most forms of art and music (where analysis and education go a long way towards appreciation) but in this case some people are just drawn to it and it’s difficult to communicate why exactly.

This is a good start.

Basically, “jam band” refers to (usually) rock-based bands that engage in lengthy improvisations (“jamming”), especially in concert. Whereas most rock bands will more or less stick to the recorded version of a song when playing it live (and their audience usually wants it that way), a jam band’s version of the same song may differ greatly from night to night, as the band members play off each other and the audience and take the song wherever they feel like taking it. Another common feature of jam bands is pronounced influences from other forms of music - jazz, bluegrass and world music influences are common. Finally, the “jam band culture” is heavily identified with the use of drugs, especially marijuana and psychedelics. While it wouldn’t be fair to say all jam bands use drugs, it might be fair to say most jam band fans do.

Hate. Despise. Am dreading the day 15-20 years down the road when the jam band craze will have spawned a nostalgia crowd. Grrrrr.