Dark Star Orchestra 12.11.10 (11.21.73)
Words & Photos By J-man
Dark Star Orchestra is one of the most controversial bands on the scene. Time and time again when the topic of listening to DSO or attending a DSO show comes up, a handful of folks will profess their distaste for what many view as the carrying on of a torch, a vibe, a music. Some argue that what DSO does amounts to "plagiarism" and or the exploitation of one of the most cherished bands on our scene; the Grateful Dead. My thoughts are that they may be charging a little more than I would want to pay for a tribute/cover band, but if DSO respects the music and they do it justice; they have my attention.
The last time I saw Dark Star was at this year's All Good Music Festival. Following John Kadlecik's departure from DSO to play with the Dead bloodline Furthur; guitarist Jeff Mattson joined the DSO charge. What I saw from Dark Star that weekend blew me away and was easily one of the top three sets of the weekend.
We arrived at the Fillmore Theater a few songs into the first set and the place was almost three quarters full, and moving. Looking around I noticed old faces and young faces; all smiling. The vibe was noticeable immediately, and it was beautiful. I'm not going to compare it to the vibe of the Grateful Dead back in the day, but I will say that it was a feeling of community. I was pretty surprised to hear stories of folks following DSO on the road and the distances people had traveled. It made me smile, but then I naturally felt feelings of confusion.
"Who is going on tour with DSO?" I thought to myself.
I glanced up at the stage... The production was impressive and DSO sounded great. Jeff Mattson's playing conjured up thoughts of what seeing Jerry may have felt like and his notation was flawless. Rob Eaton's rhythm and vocals sounded just like Bobby... potentially better. As I stood in the photo pit looking up at the band I smiled as I could see how much fun they were having. I looked over my shoulder to see the packed Fillmore roaring with excitement.
"Rob does Bobby better than Bobby." I overheard a couple of times in the crowd.
The vocal arrangements were as perfect as I have heard from a tribute/cover band. Lisa Mackey's vocal phrasing, range and approach sounded exactly like Donna in her prime. The chemistry between Lisa and Rob was noticeably on point and well practiced. Dino English held up the part of Billy K on the drums and Dead cover band Shakedown Street lent their keyboardist Joe Weisiger for the night. Mattson's ability to field the Jerry vocals was flawless. When I closed my eyes I was filled with nostalgia. Not nostalgia of my own Dead experience, as I had never seen the Dead with Jerry, but nostalgia for the feeling of community in an environment of Dead fans/"family".
The first set was a little slower and included "Sugaree", "Jack Straw", Mexicali Blues", "Here Comes Sunshine" and "Big River". Per usual they nailed every song they played. I was impressed and feeling good as the lights came on. The initial shock of lights after an hour or two of spacing out in the dark is always entertaining. Folks often stand around looking like deer in headlights.
Speculation of which specific Dead show was being covered was rampant throughout the Fillmore as folks wandered around and formed circles of conversation. The energy was really high. Folks gazed around the Fillmore enjoying the nostalgia of the memorabilia on the walls. After a little bit of nonsense and a lengthy set break the lights went down.
The second set brought more energy to the table and DSO didn't miss a beat. Folks were spinning and dancing carelessly and the music carried on. Early on in the second set the gentleman next to me leaned over and tapped me on the shoulder.
"Do you want to see which show they're covering?" He said.
"Sure." I said with a curious smile.
I glanced down at the setlist
on the gentleman's phone; "November 21st, 1973 at The Denver Coliseum". I looked over the songs in the first set... They fit the mold. Looks like this gentleman had picked it out. I looked at the second set and got excited about what was to come.
"Thanks!" I said and introduced myself to the man.
The second set included a great "Mississippi Half-step" into "Playing in a Band" into "El Paso" back into "Playing in a Bnad" into "Warf Rat" back into "Playing in the Band" into "Morning Dew". It was beautiful. The next run of songs went from "Truckin" into "Nobody's Fault But Mine" into "Going Down The Road Feeling Bad" into the closer "One More Saturday Night". I love Dead transitions and DSO was nailing them. They left the stage and the crowd went wild.
After a short minute or two they came back out to another roar from the crowd and encored with "Uncle John's Band". Following the encore they announced that it was the last show of their tour and then they were headed back home for a short time. They chose one last song to close out the tour with "Sing Me Back Home".
The show was great. There is no other band out there that recreates Dead shows or plays Dead music like Dark Star Orchestra. You may not agree with the ethos of what DSO is doing. You may not dig the cost of a DSO ticket. You may not dig DSO all together, but you can't deny their talent and incredible ability to recreate the music that we all love. Touche' DSO...
J-man's complete photo album from the show.