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MacHead - The Review

By Jake Vigliotti

I just paid $5.50 for the privilege of crossing the Whitestone Bridge through the majestic Bronx. It’s 2 pm. Bumper –to-bumper traffic. Don’t these people have jobs, who is on the road at 2 pm? Did I mention it’s raining? Why am I doing this? Why am I 1100 miles from my home in sunny Florida? I’m on my way to hear MacHead.

1999 Calendar
Before these Crowded Streets is high-hallowed listening to the Dave Matthews Band fan. Everything that came from those sessions is considered beloved; one could not imagine anything produced during that time could be lackluster. Word leaked out that there was another song from the sessions – via a picture in the 1999 calendar of the working titles of the BTCS songs, the hunt was on.

MacHead Mack-Hed. Noun - language of origin; English. Named by Producer Steve Lillywhite for the resemblance between a mix of Paul McCartney and Radiohead sounds in the same song. Ex; “OMG, I totally chanted MacHead at Alpine and Dave winked at me!”

Lillywhite later described the song in an interview as “Hauntingly beautiful”. He also commented it was an “extension of Spoon”. Those were pretty mighty good clues to the DMB song hunters. Surely something that good could not be stored away in some secret vault. It must’ve turned into something else.

Many People speculated that it could be Bartender. Someone once suggested it was a JTR/Big Eyed Fish hybrid (wow was he wrong!). In the early days of mp3’s appearing on the internet, Kind Intentions was long labeled as MacHead. There were rumors that the song splintered into many songs. Then the ultimate rumor arose; it wasn’t a real song at all, just an inside joke by the band pulled over on the unsuspecting fanbase.

But it was a real song. Or so said the “elite traders”. These are a select group of fans that have the rarest of rare stuff – sound checks, IEM’s, demos. Everything. And according to a text file I received a number of years ago in my hunt, it was legit. In late 2001, I thought I had it.

Full disclosure – I’m not nearly as “in” as you think. Really. Long story short (too late…), I was given access to someone who said they had MacHead. In talks this elite trader – whom I only knew through a fake email account – we brokered a deal to get the said demo. But just as I thought I had enough ‘rare’ stuff to throw his way (a Under The Table and Dreaming Demo and the 1.30.97 Sound board), the emails dried up. And like that, my MacHead dreams died. It turns out it was a ruse, or rather, a trap! No one, and I mean no one, in the elite trading circles had MacHead.

In 2005, in his promotional work for the movie Because of Winn Dixie, an entertainment reporter asked Dave off the record what he could tell him about the song MacHead. Dave hemmed and hawed, and coyly replied that he wrote a number of songs, and couldn’t remember them all. The reporter said later that he thought Dave was avoiding the answer. In 2006, Boyd was asked flatly about MacHead. He replied, “It's a song that we were working on for These Crowded Streets and it's a song that we just never got to completion before we finished the album. Who knows, maybe one of these days we'll finish it and record it again, but we finished the album before we finished the song.” As late as 2009, in the run-up to Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King, Dave was again asked if he could recall the chords, but he said he couldn’t remember anything about it.

MacHead is real. And luckily enough for me, someone who had it allowed me to listen to it. Not record it, copy it, and just listen to it. It would be at a specific location that I would have to travel to at my own digression, but sooner rather than later. I entered The City a cold dose of reality struck me; what if it stinks? After all, I heard Build You A House in early 2001, long before it made it out and about, and that song is terrible. This band is usually pretty good about scrapping songs for a reason. There’s a reason Break For It (the sometimes fan called Run While We Can) didn’t get played live; it simply wasn’t good enough. I suddenly had reservations about what I was doing.

I arrived at the location and immediately sat down to hear MacHead. With the most calm, nonchalant announcement, the song, already playing when I arrived, was formally introduced to me.

“That’s MacHead.”

And it’s great!

Work with me here: Think Revolver. Now think Paul McCartney’s writing style from Revolver. Think For No One, but not the actual song, just the rhythmic tone of the song, that soulful, beautiful style. I didn’t recognize anything that could be classified as Radiohead, it sounded straight up McCartney Revolver era to me (admittedly, I’m not the largest Radiohead fan in the world, but I think I could pick it up if I heard it). Dave sings the majority of the song in falsetto. It features only Dave, Carter, and Stefan, with Fonz playing an upright bass. There are no real lyrics to the song, just place-holders. Dave adlibbed about a tapeworm that producer Steve Lillywhite obtained from a bad sausage. The recording is from November 1997 at the Plant in Sauslito, CA. This was a time very early in the recording session for Before Theses Crowded StreetsRapunzel had not received lyrics by this time either – but you could still hear what could potentially be another gem. It almost didn’t sound like DMB in a way, as Spoon or Seven don’t exactly sound like DMB, just a very haunting, rhythmic, flowing, sound. Sure it’s rough around the edges, but it’s oozing with potential!

On my third listen -what? You think I wasn’t going to give it multiple runs? - something caught my ear. There was a hint of familiarity to the tune. My tiny little skull raced throughout every rare, random, thing I could think of. I went back to the early 1990’s in my mind, thinking of the old intro to Typical Situation. Nope, not it. I jumped ahead to some of the rarely played songs during the Dave and Tim run of the late 1990’s. Nada. But I was sure I heard it before. Or at least I thought I did.

I’m not going to say it’s an exact match. I won’t even say it evolved into it. I’ll just say that the song that reminds me most of MacHead is… wait for it… Sleep To Dream Her. Yes, really. But it’s not what you think; you know the good part of STDH? You know, the only good part, the bridge? That’s the part that reminds me a bit of MacHead.

In all, I heard the song six times – six different takes. There were a few that were up to around 4 minutes or so, but most were in the 2:30-3 minute range. It certainly wasn’t anything that could be dumped on an album right now and be considered ready to go, but it has a sweet, soothing sound to it that just screams “work me up!”

As I re-crossed the Whitestone Bridge, donating another $5.50 to the state of New York, I wondered, was it worth it? As I tried to consider what I had done; traveled 1100 miles just to hear one song. If you just read this, you know you would’ve done the same thing. MacHead is real. And it’s great. I do hope that one day it’ll make it on to some B-side recording. In fact, I think it will, or be reworked in some way. It’s just too full of potential to be left by the side of the road.

The views and comments expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of antsmarching.org.


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