By Chris Haworth   Published Sep 02, 2002 at 5:43 AM

Labor Day is dubbed the unofficial end of summer, making it the perfect weekend for the throngs of eager Dave Matthews Band fans at Alpine Valley to throw caution to the wind and celebrate this last bastion of summer freedom.

Sunday night, as Matthews slowly staggered onto stage with his signature walk, he immediately drew cheers from the ecstatic crowd of over 35,000. As he has before, Matthews stated Alpine is his favorite venue in which to play, although he appeared unsure how many nights he had been there as he held out three fingers saying how great it was to be back yet again.

Soon after acknowledging the crowd he and his band started off slow with "Don't Burn the Pig" followed by "Granny." Both songs proved to be warm-ups as each band member seemed to be adjusting to his instrument. Matthews then pleased the bellowing crowd with the requisite, recently overplayed radio hit "Where Are You Going?" Even the newest fans could sing along to this one.

Matthews and his band then followed with some of his earlier, yet wildly popular, songs. During "Dancing Nancies," rapidly flashing camera angles featuring views of the stage and the fans further heightened the crowd's intensity. It was followed by "Warehouse" and the seldom performed, from the much maligned "Everyday" album, "If I Had It All."

The album "Everyday" has received more negative feedback than any Dave Matthews Band album in it's 10+ year history. Many fans believe it is not what Dave Matthews should be playing and they have made it clear that this is their least favorite album in chatrooms and review postings because of it's electric, almost rock-like feel. While it is not rare for a band with a long career to have an album released from a different producer that creates a new/different sound, it is generally not a popular move.

U2 went through similar scrutiny when they released "Pop" to bad reviews. Matthews and his band quickly returned to the studio to record "Busted Stuff" which has given his expansive fan base reason to cheer. In a concerted effort to let Matthews know that "Everyday" was a good album, a group of fans launched a bundled up t-shirt onto the stage which simply stated in red letters "It's OK to like Everyday." These fans also proudly sported the homemade shirts themselves.

The band then began to reach back a bit and played songs from early albums such as "Rhyme & Reason," "One Sweet World," and "#41." They then began to crescendo by playing trademark hits "So Much To Say" and "Too Much." During "Too Much" he entertained the crowd with his quirky style of dancing which amazingly brings down the house every time. With the fans at a near-frenzied level, he unfortunately next played a mellow "Grace Is Gone." After attending multiple Dave Matthews shows, it is evident he has a pattern of following an energetic song with a slow one forgoing the opportunity to build off of the crowd's intense excitement level.

Matthews and company closed the show with hits "I Did It" and "Two Step" before returning to stage to perform "Gravedigger" and an impressive rendition of "Ants Marching" as encores.

Each "Dave show" that I attend reinforces many of the beliefs I have about this eclectic band and their niche in the music world. I firmly believe that without his supporting cast, Dave Matthews would not have achieved the status he enjoys today. Matthews has a very unique voice that separates him numerous other musicians from the masses but which gets him only so far. Band members Boyd Tinsley, Carter Beauford, Leroi Moore and Stefan Lessard have given credence that it really is the "Dave Matthews BAND."

Each of the members brings a distinctly unique yet necessary component to the band. Beuford is easily one of the best drummer/percussionists working right now, his speed, rhythm, and tempo reinforce the fact he is a leader of this band as much as Matthews is.

Tinsely brings another element of uniqueness that is unmatched in any other band. His ability to play the strings, sing, and his general appearance as a "bad boy" make him an easy crowd favorite. The solitary Moore plays five or six different horns during the show and reminds me of a distant uncle who everyone looks to at the family reunion to play for and entertain the rambunctious kids.

Lessard, on bass guitar, being the youngest member of the band, is just happy to be there. His incredible skills on bass guitar are understated as he helps maintain continuity from song to song and is careful to not overstep his boundaries. A band that is comparable to DMB that had a good lead man with a unique voice without much of a supporting cast would be the Crash Test Dummies. Both of these bands became popular in the early to mid-1990's with top 40 hits, unique voices, and small town roots. But Dave Matthews had something that Crash Test Dummies didn't, a skilled band to carry along its lead man.

Is the Dave Matthews Band an amazingly skilled band? Do they have lyrics that truly "move" anyone? The answer is convoluted. Yes, without a doubt they are skilled but lyrically they are not strong. The comparison I continually reach when reviewing Dave Matthews is how much the band is similar to the Grateful Dead.

The Dead was last generation's answer to this generation's DMB. The Dead had a front man in Jerry Garcia who was easily likable with his simple, almost childlike voice and pedestrian lyrics that were easily understood and oftentimes repeated. The Dead shows were the "place to be." It was very trendy to say that you were going to a Dead show or two each summer.

Much the same can be said about Dave Matthews. When I mentioned to friends and co-workers that I was going to see him, nearly everyone either expressed envy or said that they were going as well. When walking through the parking lot before the show, it's easy to see how this group's following nearly mirrors that of the Grateful Dead's: everyone tailgates, everyone listens to DMB from their parents SUVs with Illinois plates (used to be VW buses) and there is a similar "aroma" in the air which also was omnipresent at Dead shows.

And the timing could not have been more perfect, just after Jerry Garcia died unexpectedly in the mid-1990s, the Dave Matthews Band took off. They began selling out everywhere they performed and their albums sold millions of copies. They have successfully replaced the niche carved out by the Grateful Dead.

Still, the Dave Matthews Band puts on a very fun, successful show at which everyone wants to be. They will remain a hot commodity as long as the band stays together and continues to churn out albums for which their fans seem to have an insatiable desire.