Despite widespread popularity

by Charlotte Baxter | 11/11/98 6:00am

Maybe it is his incredibly sexy voice or that cute little dance he does in his baggy pants or the way he plays his acoustic guitar -- something about Dave Matthews won over my heart one warm September night four years ago when I first saw him perform live.

My love grew with every CD I bought. By the time the exclusive mail-order-only "Recently" album with the hard-to-find version of the classic "All Along the Watchtower" arrived in my mailbox, I was in love. I knew I was going to marry Dave, and I was only a sophomore in high school.

But I am not alone in my obsession. Despite the surprisingly small amount of radio air-time its songs have gotten over the course of the Dave Matthews Band's career, it has procured one of the largest fan bases in the music industry today.

Recently, in a time when popular artists have been playing to the paltriest concert crowds, the Dave Matthews Band's ability to sell-out show after show must surely be the envy of many musicians.

And, although I am no longer the same 16-year-old die-hard fan who sneaked out of the house at midnight to be the first in line at Blockbuster Music and buy his new album "Crash," attending a concert in Atlanta this September proved to me the extent of this raging success. The huge outdoor amphitheater that colored pinwheel lights flashed across was packed with fans ranging from the standard collegiate Abercrombie types to high school clique members to pre-adolescents.

Although I'm sure Dave left out too many of the new hits to keep happy those who haven't been with him from the beginning like I have, I was delighted to be welcomed back by such classics as "Dancing Nancies" and "Jimi Thing."

Perhaps the band's true success lies in the accessibility of its music. Their tunes have a timelessness that will always let me relive my best memories of high school when I hear them. Like any good Southern teenage girl who listened to Dave Matthews literally all the time, his music provided the backdrop for those glory days .

The underlying key to their success is the constant touring the band has done from day one. Playing night after night in small haunts around Charlottesville got their name circulating within the music world and allowed a market for legitimate bootleg tapes to thrive.

Helped by these shows and the tapes that the band actually helped distribute, DMB was discovered by those preppy fraternity-types from the nearby University of Virginia who have now stereotypically become attributed to comprising the majority of its fan base.

The band signed on with the big-time label RCA and put out "Under the Table and Dreaming," the more successful sophomore successor to its first album "Remember Two Things."

The nation-wide touring began, and through a little luck and a lot of quality music they became the flavor-for-a-couple-of-years (as opposed to "of the month") for high school and college students everywhere.

The venues the band is playing in this tour are roughly 50 times the size of those from the first days, and this mainstream turn has caused some of the original fans to feel abandoned. But as I listen to the latest albums, "Crash" and "Before These Crowded Streets," I find that the original looseness and rhythm in the music that made them so endearing is still evident in the later material.

I think they deserve this exponential success. Before the going was good, they worked incessantly and thanklessly to create and share the quality music that so many love today.

And Dave is really so cute -- that brown hair ever-so-slightly receding, those comfy pants, his South African accent ... okay, so maybe I'm not quite as over the crush as I thought. Well, regardless, he plays some killer music.