Sometimes playing through tears, the Dave Matthews Band paid tribute to their late saxophone player and band co-founder LeRoi Moore the only way they knew how Tuesday night: by pouring their hearts into their music.
Just hours after news broke that Moore had died due to complications from injuries suffered in a June ATV accident, the band took the stage at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and played what fans described as an emotional, "healing" set. They kicked it off with the song "Bartender," during which audience members said the band appeared to be visibly shaken and at points on the verge of tears.
"When we walked in, I was surprised to see Dave there because they had, literally, four hours to prepare, and he came out and you could see people were definitely sad," said Sebastian Jonqua, who attended the show.
Matthews announced after the song that Moore had died earlier in the day and told a story about his first meeting with the jazz musician, who he joined forces with in 1991 to form the group.
"[Dave] was like, 'We have some sad news. ... We learned today,' and as he was saying this, I was grabbing my friend's knees ... and I was like, 'Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!' " fan Bobbie Celaya said. "Because I knew what was coming, and he was like, 'LeRoi today gave his ghost up,' and right then and there, I started bawling."
In a video from the concert posted on TMZ.com, Matthews, his voice trembling, tells the crowd, "We will miss him forever. It's always easier to leave than to be left. We appreciate y'all being here. ... It has not been a good day for us, but there's nobody I'd rather be with than all my family up here on the stage."
Matthews later told the story of first meeting Moore in a bar in Virginia where Moore was performing. He said his late musical partner was uncharacteristically drunk that night and had to lean on the bar for support, but he recalled falling in love with his friend after hearing him play "the most beautiful version of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' that I ever heard in my whole life."
Following the show, fan Selena Carter said getting through that first song was hard for the band and the fans. "The first song ... I turned around to get a drink, and I see a bunch of girls just wiping their tears, genuinely crying," she said. Other attendees described a scene where teary-eyed DMB fans who didn't even know each other were doling out supportive hugs and trying to help one another deal with the sudden loss.
After honoring their friend and bandmate, the group picked up the pace and turned the show into more of a celebration than a somber wake, according to attendees. Longtime fans said there was definitely a special feeling in the air during the set, though a number described Matthews as being less animated than usual onstage as he played some of Moore's favorite songs and spoke a bit more than he typically does.
For Mike Delapaz, who has been going to see the band for more than a decade, the show was fun but a bit different than what he was used to. "I can tell there was a big difference tonight the way the band was playing," he said. "I've met them, drank with them, whatever, but it seems like they didn't want to be there, but they were playing because they had that energy. They wanted to make it real. They wanted to play for LeRoi. It was kind of bittersweet."
In a statement released Wednesday (August 20), RIAA President/CEO Neil Portnow said: "Grammy winner LeRoi Moore was a versatile and inventive saxophonist. A classically trained musician, his love of jazz infused the Dave Matthews Band's music with jazz and funk overtones that helped define the group's eclectic and signature sound. His untimely passing is a loss to music fans everywhere, and our heartfelt sympathies go out to the band, his family and all who were moved by his music."
A spokesperson for the band said there isn't information on a memorial service or funeral arrangements for Moore yet.