Tag Archives: dave matthews band

LeRoi Moore: 5 Years On

LeRoi Moore, Dave Matthews Band saxophonist and founding member, died five years ago today. He succumbed to complications from an ATV accident a few weeks shy of his 47th birthday. I’m sure there’ll be various remembrances throughout the DMB-centric corner of the internet, but I’d like to chip in my $0.02. It seems cliché but, although I never met the man, he and his music are with me each day.

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Regular reader of this blog know my deep love of DMB’s music. (See below.) Not only does he play a large role in a favorite band, but I count him among one of my favorite saxophonists. I always include his name if someone asks who my biggest saxophonic influences are. Roi can’t be written off just as “the sax player” a la Dick Parry. It’d be presumptuous to say that Roi single-handedly changed how a saxophone was perceived in rock and pop music, but it’s notable that he served as the band’s co-lead soloist (along with violinist Boyd Tinsley). Sure, he was no Trane or Liebman, but he didn’t set out to be, at least not with DMB. (And, conversely, I don’t see either of them playing in Roi’s style the way he did.) For me, his playing is a near perfect blend of jazz-influenced, soulful rock and pop. It’s not to be compared to strictly jazz saxophonists because it’s not jazz. It’s a different aesthetic. And although he was a working jazz musician before DMB, he grew into something much more. In fact, looking back, while I’ve often gone through spells in which I aspired to be the next young jazz lion, the truth is that my aim has often been more in Roi’s direction – to be a high quality, stylistically flexible musician.

Though I knew of the band beforehand, it all really began with my purchasing Crash soon after its April 1996 release. As a young adolescent playing the saxophone, I was floored to hear a pop/rock band featuring the saxophone so prominently, and not just in the radio singles. At the time I was only tangentially interested in jazz, and most saxophonic pop references were of the “guest feature” variety, generally in a honky R&B style: Pink Floyd’s various sax cameos, 50s and 60s rock, etc. (I touch upon this continuing trend here.) Without this becoming a Crash-centric post, that album proved to be a real turning point for me. Roi’s solo on the studio recording of #41 is perhaps the first instrumental solo I committed to memory. And not because I made a conscious effort to do so; rather, I just listened to it all of the time. (Imagine my delight when I attended my first DMB concert and the band opened with “#41.”)

I remember the shock of learning the news the night he died. I was with my girlfriend (now wife) and she put up with my impromptu memorial service which included moping on my couch, teary-eyed, watching the Listener Supported DVD with a picture of Roi on my laptop screen. We fans knew that he’d been in critical condition, as he’d not been on the tour since late June (with Jeff Coffin – another of my favorite saxophonists, completely separate from his DMB association – filling in, later to be his permanent replacement). I’d spent every summer – and occasional winters – seeing him and his bandmates in concert since 2000, and I’ve missed him at every show since that night. Sure, I still have my hundreds of hours of recordings, but it’s just not the same. The band has taken a slightly different direction with Coffin now playing full time. It’s not worse or better, just different. I absolutely love what they’re doing now, but I miss Roi.

I made my annual pilgrimage to the band’s three-night stint at The Gorge Ampitheatre ten days after his death and it was an emotional weekend. After canceling a couple of concerts for the funeral, the summer tour resumed as normal that weekend in Washington. Watching the band, particularly Carter, play through “Bartender,” the weekend’s opener, in tears was moving. (There were many tears throughout that weekend.) On that first night, the crowd launched into an impromptu tribute of cheers and glow sticks for Roi between songs partway through the set. The crew flashed a picture of Roi on the screens and Dave told the band and crew to hold off until the crowd had finished. It was a memorable six minutes before the band launched into a special “#41.” I’ll never forget it. For those that may have been there, and other fans who weren’t, here it is in two parts:

And the tribute video shown before the encore each night brought a tear every time:

I still listen to Roi all the time, but he’s been getting some extra attention over the last week as the five year mark approached. It really does seem like just the other day I was enjoying his playing on the first part of the 2008 tour in Chicago, Detroit, and Buffalo. But at least I can still enjoy the wealth of great music he left behind. And to cap off this humble tribute, here is perhaps my single favorite solo of his from an official release: the flute and saxophone solos from “#41” on 1999’s Listener Supported:

For previous DMB-centric posts, see here, here, here, here, here, and here.

MTH-V: DMB Rarities Return in 2013

Breaking the streak of Wagner posts (here, here, here, and here; more here) is a little DMB. There’s some symbolism here as well, considering that DMB is what snapped me out of my Wagner haze that settled in around the time of the composer’s birthday. If anything will distract me, it’s a run of three great Dave Matthews Band concerts.

I attended two cold but amazing shows at Saratoga, NY’s SPAC, followed by a great performance the following weekend in Cuyahoga Falls, OH outside of Cleveland. (For the former, DMB’s the only reason I’ll camp in 30-something degree weather…) This summer’s tour has been rife with jaw-dropping surprises. While the band is known for varied, relatively unpredictable setlists, this summer’s tour has taken things to another level. Many shelved oldies have been dusted off, and some forgotten tunes (notably “Captain” – largely neglected after 2002…and they’re playing it right now in Mansfield, MA as I type this!) are now in regular rotation. Below are some select rarities I saw over the course of those three shows.

“Joy Ride” — One of five songs debuted on the 2004 tour, it all but went away after 2006 (save for one 2011 performance).

“The Idea Of You” — Not as forgotten, as it’s gotten some live release love. One of the 2006 song debuts, it’s been been played few times since 2010. (But it used to be played quite a bit, giving it less mythic status than its sibling “Shotgun.”) Still a pleasant surprise.

“Oh” — A DMB debut. It’s a Dave Matthews original, but this was the first time it’d been played at a full-band show. It’s usually only played by Dave Matthews solo, Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds, or Dave Matthews & Friends. A nice little song off of Some Devil, Dave’s 2003 solo album.

“Captain” — This was my first “Captain” in over a decade, with the last being in December 2002.

And even though it’s a rare song, this particularly “Halloween” from SPAC night 2 is especially noteworthy as it was a double encore, which almost never happens (my first and only in 61 shows)…

Past DMB-centric MTH-V posts here, here, here (SPAC 2012 goodies), here (from 1992 — watch this if you haven’t), and here.

MTH-V: DMB’s “Mercy”

Today sees the release of Away from the World, Dave Matthews Band‘s eighth studio album. It’s notable for a variety of reasons, but primarily because:
1. It’s the first studio album to not include material from LeRoi Moore
2. It marks the return of producer Steve Lillywhite (who produced “the big three”: Under the Table and Dreaming, Crash, and Before These Crowded Streets)
3. It’s simply a new DMB studio album!

Regular readers know I’m a DMB fanatic and I’ve written about the group at length before and in three other MTH-V entries (here, here, and here). Simply enjoy the debut single’s video (“Mercy,” which features much many fan contributions) and get your copy ASAP. (My “super deluxe edition” should arrive any minute…)

MTH-V: DMB at SPAC 2012

Dave Matthews Band destroyed at Saratoga Performing Arts Center this weekend. As expected.

Though I’ve tried to temper the references and/or devoted entries since the blog’s inception, regular readers may be familiar with my deep love of DMB. Besides keeping company with the rest of my Top 5, I’ve seen them far more than any other act (56 times and counting) and only Miles Davis comes close to rivaling them in my record collection. (Thank you, Complete Columbia Recordings box sets…)

This past Friday and Saturday I attended their two-night stand in Saratoga, NY. SPAC is one of the four coveted venues for a DMB fan, the shows at which always result in top-notch setlists, rare performances, and a hardcore fan base. (The other three venues are The Gorge in George, WA, Red Rocks Ampitheatre in Morrison, CO, and Alpine Valley Music Theatre in Elkhorn, WI. I’ve seen 21 shows at The Gorge but have yet to attend the other two.) It’s also one of the band’s favorite venues (along with the other three), hence the “historic” performances (in DMB lore, that is).

This was my second trek to SPAC, with the other being in 2009. I briefly discussed that experience here. That night’s concert in question was one of the best DMB shows I’ve attended. “The Stone” was beyond epic, “Halloween” was out of nowhere, and the band was on fire. While I don’t think a single night from this past weekend beats the 06.13.09 show, the diverse setlists for both nights probably elevated over my previous trip as a whole. Rarities, new songs, and guest musicians (Lettuce‘s Eric Krasno and The Shady Horns) sprinkled both shows for a solid weekend.

I often try to “connect the dots” with these video posts, and I can do so again here. First, it’s a somewhat timely follow-up to the aforementioned “Stifle Yourself” post. I once again saw “Halloween” at SPAC, only this time my phone remained firmly in pocket all the while. This time I just soaked it in. I considered taking a picture of all the other fans taking pictures and videos, but figured that’d open up a meta-can of worms that’s best kept closed. Second, like last week, it’s a nice reminder of a great live musical experience.

The audio on some of these could be a bit better, but the video quality is pretty good. Not all songs from both nights are up, so it’s somewhat of a random sampling, but enough to give you a good taste. (And the best part is that I got to top the weekend off by seeing Radiohead in Detroit Monday night… 🙂 )

N1: Finale, “Halloween” into “Tripping Billies”

N1: “Seven” — FUNKY mixed meter goodness in all its glory. (My favorite song from Big Whiskey…)

N1: “Can’t Stop” (w. Eric Krasno & The Shady Horns) — One of the “lost” 2006 tunes starting to enjoy a gradual comeback. (Please do the same for “Break Free”…)

N2: “Two Step” — Finale, and the crowd chanted for it all night long (until they gave up and started chanting “Last Stop,” which is heard at the beginning).

Beyond the Horn

(NOTE: I’m aware that some sweeping generalizations are made here. I intend to deeply sift through this further down the road.)

I play many different styles of music. Regular readers may already know this but, for example, in the last six months I’ve gigged in the following styles: Americana, folk/singer-songwriter, cocktail/wallpaper jazz, “jam band” (for lack of better term – improvisatory rock), sound/ambient, musical theater (Annie), rock. And I’m already in the process of lining up further disparate gigs over the next few months. I’m well aware that I’m not unique for doing so. A number of my colleagues and peers do the same, and there are many musicians in general that do so. However, one supposedly “limiting” factor is that I’m doing all of these gigs on saxophone (tenor, soprano, alto; plus the occasional flute and/or clarinet).

The jazz-, musical theater-, and classical-oriented stuff is no big thing in the sense that there’s already a place for me. In the latter two cases, the music is precisely notated in such a way that there should be no deviation from one performance to the next. In jazz, the history and vocabulary provides a natural context for the horn regardless of who I’m playing with. However, many of the other styles – notably rock, indie, and others of such ilk – aren’t common settings for my instrument. And in those cases where sax is often used, especially in older rhythm and blues and rock and roll styles, it’s performed in such a specific manner that eschewing such conventions – growling, squealing, blues-ing – can be jarring. It’s not that I dislike such affectations – quite the opposite – but over time they created a box that largely remains today.

Over the last four decades, the saxophone has been a sort of cameo rock instrument. (Before then it was often a staple.) When present it is noticeable. It usually seems to be the case that it’s “band + saxophone” as opposed to a band that happens to have a saxophone as a mainstay. There are of course exceptions to this rule – my beloved Dave Matthews Band springs to mind. In the case of DMB, the sax originally substituted the position of lead guitar (trading such responsibilities with violin). Also with DMB, the music has enough jazz-, jam-, or crossover influence to comfortably allow a variety of instruments to fit in. Another band known for marathon concerts, Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, of course features sax (the late Clarence Clemons, now his nephew Jake Clemons and Eddie Manion). However, even with The E Street Band, the heavy guitar presence sort of places the sax within the aforementioned box. (Disclaimer: I’m not intimately familiar with Springsteen’s deep cuts, but these are my impressions having explored his catalogue as much as I have.) Just picking one song off the top of my head, “Rosalita” definitely follows in the “rock sax” tradition. Even Pink Floyd‘s use of the saxophone stayed mainly within this vain – e.g., “Money,” “Us and Them,” and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond Pt. 1” (the latter being perhaps my favorite PF song). There’s even a hint of it in Ron Holloway’s playing with The Warren Haynes Band (last week’s MTH-V). Or you could just listen to some George Thorogood. Or Bob Seger. Or…you get the picture…

It’s worth reiterating that I have nothing against the above sax examples or style at large. For the most part, I quite like all of them. But they passively reinforce the stereotypical “rock sax” sound – a near-anachronistic rhythm and blues punch in the face of the 70s, 80s, 90s, or 2000s listener. It’s as if the saxophone stayed in the fifties and sixties while rock continued to evolve alongside it over the next four decades.

Whenever I play with a rock band – sitting in or regularly – I’m compared, consciously or otherwise, to this tradition. (And I mean a real rock/pop band, not just a funk/fusion band that features an electric guitar.) Though I always appreciate it, I can’t help but laugh a little each time I’m told something to the effect of, “I didn’t know what to expect when I saw the saxophone” or “that was really good [or different, in a positive way]!” Because I know that that comparison took place at some point in the performance, even if only for a few milliseconds. And why shouldn’t it? That old R&B – the real R&B: rhythm and blues – sound is deeply embedded in that aural combination of “band + saxophone.”

By no means do I think I’m going where no saxophonist has gone before by avoiding this hangup. To cite a current example, one of the many things I love about Bon Iver‘s sophomore album is Colin Stetson‘s saxophonic contributions. (“MTH-V” on Bon Iver is here.) He plays throughout the material but is rarely at the sonic forefront – his presence is felt as well as heard. And his choice to mostly play the bass saxophone (with some alto and clarinet thrown in for good measure) is definitely unique in a rock setting. He is effective because he adds another noticeable, functional layer without sonically drawing attention to himself. If you were to just sit down and listen to Bon Iver straight through, you wouldn’t necessarily consider it “band + saxophone” (or “band + French horn,” etc.), but rather just a band.

(There are of course other modern/recent examples – Morphine springs to mind.)

When I’m playing with a band – rock, folk, jazz, or anything remotely along those lines – I don’t necessarily think of myself as the saxophonist per se. Instead I’m just another musician in either a lead or supporting role. Or both. Idealistic? Perhaps. But it has an effect on my thinking and consequently my playing. This of course is part of trying to find one’s “authentic voice,” to quote George Carlin. A primary goal for any musician or artist of any kind is to hone one’s craft to the point of developing an original voice/POV. This shouldn’t exist in a vacuum – ideally I should sound like me regardless of style. As I’ve said many times before, I grew up on rock and pop music. The sound is buried in my DNA. If anything I just see myself as another guitarist without getting hung up on the instrument hanging from my neck.

In Teag & PK, for instance, I have a lot of room to explore. There are just two of us – Matt (guitars, vocals, effects, electronics) and myself (saxes, flute) – and we cover a lot of stylistic ground from experimental ambience to straight-ahead songs. (More on that here and here.) The ambient improvisations are “easier” than the songs in the sense that the sonic landscape is wide open and there’s mostly no form. The more indie-esque songs are challenging at first because it’s often tricky to figure out where and how to implement a monodic instrument without getting in the way of Matt’s chords and voice. We can’t always have countermelodies – that’d get old fast. And I don’t want to just stand there as the de facto soloist in the final act of every song. So instead I find other ways to fit and truly collaborate: subtone a bass line, offer responsorial phrases, play an occasional counter-melody, regularly switch instrumental for timbral effect, etc. In a number of songs I’m able to fill out our sound without distracting from Matt’s singing; it’s truly a duo instead of an alternating singer and soloist.

Regarding straight-ahead rock, I’ve recently been sitting in with The Fencemen. (They’re rock with a capital R-A-W-K.) It started as a one-off recording contribution but I’ve since sat in on a couple live shows. As a bit of an experiment on their part (I’m guessing), they gave me carte blanche on the last gig’s entire set. I did my homework – happily so; their upcoming debut album is great – and did what I thought was best for each song. The band’s instrumentation of vocals, guitar, bass, drums, and keys is already sufficiently full, so above all else I intended to stay out of the band’s way. I gave myself some legitimate “parts” that simply enhanced the texture in some areas, other times I soloed. And other times I simply acted as a second guitarist, complementing the primary guitar parts. At no time did I stress over where to put a saxophone. Instead I thought about where I, not my instrument, would fit. (And if the answer was nowhere I’d lay out.) I didn’t want to just add sound for the sake of adding sound. I wanted to do fit inside what was already there. And it seemed to work. (For the most part, at least.)

Understandably, the above two examples may not seem like much. But I can tell you that, from a horn player’s perspective, the impulse to play a lot of notes is enormous and difficult to temper initially. In classical and jazz ensembles the saxophone often has a busy, featured part. This creates a sort of default mentality of always needing to play similarly in all settings. And on top of wanting to let the fingers fly, a trap I’ve seen a number of people fall into is a stylistic misunderstanding. It’s not uncommon to see a horn player execute jazz licks within pop music. (I guess that whole “knowing your predecessors” thing only applies to jazz and classical styles?) I’m sure part of it may just be the natural defaulting to what he/she knows best. Beyond that, I’m convinced that part of the reasoning is also a mindset that focuses on a traditionally “jazz” or “classical” instrument juxtaposing with a pop style. This then reinforces the reverting to type that often occurs.

I’m not going to allow my choice of instrument limit my choice of style. It’s not that I have “guitar envy.” Obviously I love the saxophone or I wouldn’t have spent all these years devoted to it. In fact, in full disclosure, I’ve played in the aforementioned “rock sax” style a number of times – sometimes that really is the best option. But often it’s definitely not the only option. An instrument is just a means of expression, not an end. And despite all my rage I won’t be just another horn in a cage…

(Photo: Meat Loaf as Eddie in Rocky Horror Picture Show. Duh.)