The Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash into Me” recurs at several key points in last year’s much-lauded Lady Bird. It’s first heard as the title character, played by Saoirse Ronan, and her best friend sing tearfully along to the car radio after discovering her boyfriend is gay. It returns at a key moment, as Lady Bird’s pretentious new beau (Timothée Chalamet) expresses his hatred for the song; her plainspoken response — a simple, “I like it” — represents a newfound maturity and self-confidence, a willingness to be herself and a realization that she finally has some idea who that is.
Singer-songwriter Ryley Walker’s latest project is an album-length version of Lady Bird’s “I like it.” On The Lillywhite Sessions, Walker, who will play Boot & Saddle on Thursday, covers the Dad Rock icons’ famous 2001 “lost album” in its entirety, asserting his love for the band to a fanbase that is probably more sympathetic to Chalamet’s disdain than Ronan’s heartfelt adoration. Philadelphians who want to join in support of the critically maligned band will have their shot Tuesday, Dec. 11, as the Dave Matthews Band takes the stage at the Wells Fargo Center in support of its ninth album, Come Tomorrow.
For a film set in 2002, DMB couldn’t have been a more ideal choice for Lady Bird’s self-discovery. “Crash into Me” had been a huge hit in 1996, landing it at a formative moment for a high school senior six years later. Adolescence is a time when the fervidness of our passions far outpaces the refinement of our tastes, meaning we all have a fair amount of misplaced nostalgia that can’t be shaken, no matter how questionable its object.
A quarter-century after their debut, DMB and their era are ripe for a wider resurgence, in keeping with the cyclical nature of pop culture nostalgia. This writer recalls childhood in the late 1970s, with the leather jackets and malt shops of the 1950s summoned via Happy Days and Sha Na Na, and an 1980s adolescence with chest-thumping baby boomers erecting a classic rock border wall, asserting the unassailability of their Woodstock-muddied tastes.
The ’90s is a rare case when music that would typically be championed for rediscovery a generation later somehow became the popular music of the day. The decade will forever be evoked by flannel shirts and mumbled angst, recalling the time when Nirvana’s improbable success instigated a Pacific Northwest feeding frenzy, with lucrative record contracts being dangled before anyone with an electric guitar and seasonal affective disorder.
All of that was just a little too angry for college students more prone to ultimate Frisbee and baja hoodies; hence, the rise of a strain of unassuming rock bands that provided anthems for sleeping past the alarm and cruising into an “easy A” class in your pajama bottoms. Like clockwork, they’re all reappearing now: The epitome of slacking your way into a chart-topping hit, Hootie and the Blowfish, just announced a reunion tour, with the Barenaked Ladies in the opening slot.
Unlike many of their peers, the Dave Matthews Band never went away, despite the sneers of the cool kids and the distractable tastes of the popular kids. They’ve soldiered on, overcoming the death of saxophonist LeRoi Moore and the sexual misconduct allegations against now-former violinist Boyd Tinsley, forming the bro-potenuse of a triangle between jam-band obsessives and longtime fans who never quite got those self-effacing grooves out of their heads.
Count Walker among the latter group. Despite the serrated sarcasm of the persona he’s cultivated on social media, Walker is apparently sincere in his DMB fandom. He chooses to express it through The Lilleywhite Sessions, a set of songs recorded with producer Steve Lilleywhite that was discarded as too downbeat, leading to the hasty writing and recording of Everyday. (The songs later appeared in sleeker, sunnier form on 2002’s Busted Stuff.)
Walker, whose latest original album, Deafman’s Glance, is one of the year’s best, makes the songs his own, incorporating his influences from progressive folk, psychedelia, and avant-jazz, but they also reveal the seed of DMB’s influence on his own songs. It may not be quite enough to convince that the Dave Matthews Band merits reassessment (the reality of “Crash into Me” and its soppy ode to masturbation is enough to cut that thought short), but like seeing a person through her loved one’s eyes, it’s illuminating to realize how one person’s blemish is another’s beauty.