I’m a Dave Matthews Band fan. To say that among certain circles of friends is practically suicide, but it’s the damn truth. I fell in love with them in high school, particularly the song “Don’t Drink the Water,” which, for some reason, spoke to me. Since then, I’ve purchased all of their studio material and a myriad of live recordings.
DMB occupies a very tiny niche, being able to put out accessible studio albums that are still honest to their live performances. For a jam band, that is a rare thing. A very rare thing. More so, their songs exude a degree of musicianship that few bands ever get to, and for a band who’s lineup includes a violinist, a sax and trumpet player, an even rarer feat. The guitar is never a focal point, especially as the primary guitar in which Dave Matthews’ uses, is acoustic. But it also never just falls into the mix, overpowered by other instrumentation.
“#41” is my favorite of their songs. It’s mysterious, melodically beautiful, and so ambiguous that you can find what meaning you want in it. According to Dave, the song is a response to a lawsuit brought forth by former manager, Ross Hoffman. To the casual listener, the song plays like one of the most complicated relationship situations anybody has ever been in. One involving second chances and demons haunting both parties. That universal appeal is why the song is so beloved by many of the group’s fans.
It debuted in live sets in 1995 under the title “41 Police.” It represented the 41st song the band had written, and was dubbed “Police” because of its aural similarities to the Police’s “Bring on the Night.” From there the song evolved, changing chord progressions and lyrics and becoming the “#41” that is still performed today.
The song opens to a somber guitar, strum simply and with tight symbol work by the band’s phenomenal drummer, Carter Beauford. Slowly, the violin comes in, also played simply leading to a haunting, short sax solo that brings the song into full form. “#41” then leads to various crescendos throughout. The song ultimately lacks a chorus, instead relying on beautiful poetic lyrics to drive a really intense song.
Often, the band will jam on the song for ten, fifteen, even twenty minutes, depending on the guest they have on stage. The longest version clocks in at 32 mintues and 3 seconds, from a 2002 show in Ontario, Canada, featuring Béla Fleck and the Flecktones.
Whatever your favorite version of the song, live or studio, it’s hard not to get lost into the world of it. While most get lost in songs, most get lost in the world of “#41,” as if it’s some fantasy novel. That’s what I love about this song, among other things. “#41” has the ability to give you what you need, whether it’s understanding, healing, or just plain entertainment. Everyone comes to it and leaves differently. It’s as the lyrics say: “I will go in this way, and find my own way out.”