By Anthony Kuzminski I’ve been surrounded by death my entire life. My mother lost her father when she was 5, and had one sibling die one in their 40’s and another in their 50’s. Those are just the immediate family. My father’s side has experienced immense loss as well. As long as I can remember, the concept of death has been prevalent in my life probably in the same way football penetrates everyone in the city of Green Bay from birth. From a very young age, it became clear to me that life wasn’t something to take lightly. It’s probably why whenever I hear about anyone who has died, it has an impact on me regardless of whether or not I knew them or not. I think about the lives they had led and those who were close to them and somehow how these people’s lives will never be quite the same. Earlier this week, LeRoi Moore, saxophone player for the Dave Matthews Band passed at the far too young age of 46 due to complications from an accident he had earlier this summer. It’s a devastating loss not just to his family and friends but to his musical compatriots as well. LeRoi Moore was not just the band’s founder but an integral piece of the band’s core sound. His horn may not be as flashy as Boyd Tinsley’s violin or as thunderous as Carter Beauford’s drums, but he his horns were the soul that colored the vast landscapes of this band’s best material.
Back in the fall of 1994, I bought the Dave Matthews Band major label debut, Under The Table and Daydreaming and enjoyed it…but it fell off my radar shortly thereafter, as I found the album to be a solid affair but ultimately one that didn’t hold my interest. A few months later I began looking for it and realized my sister had hijacked the disc. Over the next seven years, I watched my sister become a die-hard DMB fan; she bought every release, caught them in concert and even traveled to see them. They were the band that defined her high school and college years. Me on the other hand, I found myself completely neutral from what they were doing. I had immense respect for their craft and their generosity to their fans, but ultimately, the music didn’t speak to me…until I saw them live.
Early in the 2002, I grabbed a pair of prime seats to see an indoors show by the Dave Matthews Band wanting to see if I was really missing out on anything. On a chilly April night right outside of Chicago I had the revelation my sister experienced so many years before. The concert was epic, focused and downright spiritual. After eight-years of shrugging my shoulders, this multi-dimensional band truly revealed themselves to me. The band and the 18,000 fans in attendance on this particular evening (April 26, 2002 in Rosemont) was a magical marriage where both were on equal footing. The band performed two shows and I caught the one without the hits, yet it still managed to blow my mind. I’m glad I missed the hits, because it was the deep album cuts that exposed the duality of this colossal band, particularly on one earth-shattering and larger-than-life song “Bartender”. Written in 2000 as Matthews experiencing a loss of faith and crisis, yet through his pain something weighty came to light as this ambitious ten-minute song proves. The enlightening and visceral song was a watershed moment for Matthews and the band. It’s one of those epic songs may not get radio airplay but fans warp themselves up in its lyrics and music. I can’t think of any song in their vast catalog that defines who this band is better. What left me in awe the first time I saw it live was the staggering display of heart, soul and virtuosity with which the band performed this song. Now, at this time Busted Stuff was three-months away from being released, but it didn’t stop the crowd from making their most fervent and rapturous roars of the evening.
After all these years, I finally understood why legions of college kids found this band religious. It still stands as one of the defining concert moments of my life. Performances like the one of “Bartender” are otherworldly; the moment outweighs the money spent on tickets, parking, ticketbastard convenience fees, the smell of certain tobacco, a hangover and all the other drama that surrounds concerts these days even before a single note has been played. The frustration and indignation disappears during that perfect and illustrious moment where 18,000 people are completely in synch with the band as they climax together as one. As "Bartender" reached its climax, the song became something words can’t express as each of the members drifted into another realm. Matthew’s growling vocal, the searing violin of Boyd Tinsley, the pounding backbeat and drums supplied by Carter Beauford and Stefan Lessard and most importantly LeRoi Moore’s fist in the air pumping horns become something grand and blockbuster when conjoined in musical unison. The searing instrumental at the end of the song provide the spiritual rebirth that the narrator of "Bartender" is searching for.
What makes the Dave Matthews Band so distinctive was its ability for each of the members to never overshadow anyone else. They are a unit whose sound is can only be defined by teamwork, one for all and all for one. LeRoi Moore may have been the most unassuming member of the band but at its core he was the soul of the Dave Matthews Band. He was not just the band’s founder but the musician who provided color to Matthew’s sketches. He bestowed subtle touches with his horns the way a master painter would ever so delicately paint the surroundings. Just like Danny Federici of the E Street Band (who passed in April), Moore was a master of effortless flourishes that were not ostentatious but ultimately integral to the fundamental nature of the song. This is never more prominent than on the studio cut “Bartender” from The Lillywhite Sessions. Surrounded in controversy, these sessions, in my humble opinion, find the band at their creative zenith. Originally recorded throughout 2000 and eventually scrapped, the album was shrouded in mystery especially when the band chose to record and release the much more derivative Everyday in early 2001. Within a year, The Lillywhite Session were posted to the net in pristine quality where they have gone on to have a mythic quality surrounding them. Most of the songs were later re-recorded by the band’s engineer for the 2002 release Busted Stuff which is also a distinguished release, but there’s something miraculous and inexplicable about the Lillywhite recordings. These songs were still new to the band in 2000 and I hear a hunger, novelty and a focus on the overall ongoing musical journey. It was a dark time for Matthews when the band recorded this album, but ultimately it’s their masterpiece as it weaves songs of loss, faith and reflection so effortlessly. It’s grave and somber, yet it’s profoundly authentic and real and that ultimately is why people feel so attached to this album.
“Bartender” is a deep album cut that speaks volumes and you will find something new to love on each and every listen. I was speaking to someone sitting next to me at a Dave Matthews show a few years back and this young girl told me about a loss of faith she had during her college years due to internal family drama and how when she heard “Bartender” she told me it opened up her mind, her world and eventually to a reconciliation of sorts with her family. I didn’t even know this girl and I never caught her name, but this broken soul did what every artist dreams of. She took a piece of their art, digested it, took a good long hard look in the mirror and she realized she was drinking her problems away. She knew she had to confront her past, own up to it and come to terms with who her family was “if I am ever going to be a functioning human ever again” as she said with a intense face. That night the band played “Bartender” and as I watched her twist and turn her body I saw a gleaming smile bare itself as tears streamed down her face. This was a simultaneously intoxicating and liberating experience for her soul and one I’ll never forget for as long as I live.
Now, what makes “Bartender” so epic on The Lillywhite Sessions is the song passes the 10-minute mark, the band’s longest studio recording (even if it is unofficial) and in my mind, their preeminent. There is a renewal and a silver lining in the cloud in his solo which gorgeously partners with Matthews meditative and evocative lyrics. This is Matthews defining moment as a songwriter and the band’s tour de force performance on record. The song goes from being grand to immense in the last 4-minutes and it’s mostly because of Moore’s rumbling horns which are an essential character unto themselves. On Busted Stuff Moore’s horns are more buried in the mix (as they originally probably had been intended), but on the Lillywhite Sessions they make the song more imposing as his horns compliment the weighty lyrics. While there are not huge difference in the beginning of the song between the Lillywhite and Busted Stuff recordings, the The Lillywhite Sessions feature LeRoi Moore’s career defining performance. The last 4-minutes of this 10-minute epic find Moore adding sonic and delicate touches of his horns that build up the song into a larger than life presence. On Busted Stuff he ends the song and album with a delicate flute solo but on The Lillywhite Sessions Moore’s horns bring an ominous almost God-like presence to the song that teeters between the spiritual and the nether worlds. Moore provides the rhythm (ba-ba-ba-ba-dah-dah-dah!) while a separate but stunningly penetrating solo is sprinkled and layered on top. There’s a battle between God and Lucifer and as the heavens thunder rapturously; Moore’s layered horns provide us with the darkness…and more importantly, the light.
LeRoi Moore was a man who realized his dream and while his passing is devastating, we need to celebrate how he lived his life and the art he has left behind for future generations to enjoy and commemorate. I will miss him and the Dave Matthews Band will never be the same, but whenever I hear the finale of “Bartender” I’ll smile and remember his soulful presence and that’s all we can do.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network and his daily writings can be read at The Screen Door and can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com.