Dave Matthews Band Revisited: Remembering LeRoi Moore

Photo by Niels ten Have

Dave Matthews Band have never been critical darlings. That’s an understatement, and to some degree I can understand the repulsion: the Charlottesville, Va. act rose to fame playing to drunken, baseball cap-wearing frat brothers who then picked up guitars and played the same songs to any girl unlucky enough to wander by their dorm room. Dave (on a first-name basis with all his bros, of course) has probably been responsible for as much humping as Al Green in his prime.

Listening to nerdier sounds, however, had much the opposite effect until a confluence of factors flipped the switch roughly around the release of Garden State. It’s no wonder a generation of critics and so-called serious listeners (read: hipsters) old enough to remember Lester Bangs and young enough to have missed out on punk rock turned their backs on the band from the get-go.

So ignore the audience, and ignore the absurdity of a band that’s always been 95% songs, 5% jams releasing live album after live album and somehow earning a following of 21-year-old semi-Deadheads with firedancer tattoos. Success is success, after all, and a band can hardly be blamed for a misguided following. Beyond all the accoutrements of their success, for some four albums’ worth of songs, Dave Matthews Band was a great, even groundbreaking band; in their prime, they merged electric performances with thoughtful folk-rock songwriting and a jazz-inspired adventurousness that could never reach the radio now, much less go multi-platinum.

The heart of that sound was LeRoi Moore, who passed away unexpectedly on Tuesday following complications from an ATV accident. Perhaps the most musical DMB member, Moore brought his saxes — tenor, soprano, bass, baritone — flute and pennywhistle to bear on many a Matthews Band song. His low rumblings add foreboding under “Crash Into Me,” the group’s biggest hit; on a demo version of “Bartender” recorded for the widely bootlegged Lillywhite Sessions, his tenor sax bounds across the song’s second half like an 8-year-old on the first day of summer.

His joyful, considered playing was never overbearing, never showboating — a claim the rest of the band would be hard-pressed to make. Matthews is the songwriter, Carter Beaford the virtuouso, Boyd Tinsley the weak link, and Stefan Lessard, well, the bassist. But in many ways, it was Moore’s woodwinds that blew under the band’s wings, bringing them to soaring heights that sound no less lofty in the wake of their recent artistic drought. He will be missed.

Dave Matthews Band – “Bartender” (Lillywhite Sessions version): mp3

(Second photo by Audrey_Sel)