Dark Star Orchestra: 1.26.11

Words & Photos By Greg Molitor (ReMIND Photography)

The Majestic Theater - Detroit, MI

What is Dark Star Orchestra? At face value, the band performs The Grateful Dead songs along with a few original tunes. Some call Dark Star Orchestra a cover band; others see the group as a ‘tribute’ band. Definitions aside, one cannot rely on labels to gauge the true power behind Dark Star Orchestra’s mission. On January 26, 2011, I made a trek to Detroit in order to do my own measuring of worthiness...I needed to see firsthand if Dark Star Orchestra was merely a group of performers playing cover songs or if the band represented something beyond a collection of notes and lyrics written by others.

I arrived to The Majestic Theater in Detroit with a few friends around 8:30 P.M. After some general hobnobbing in the parking lot, I met with my crew and entered the building. The Majestic Theater is a decently-sized single-level venue that is attached to a smaller venue and a bowling alley. The shows I’d seen their previously had been rather enjoyable, and I was looking forward to having plenty of dancin’ space to work my boogie! At first glance, their were plenty of folks young and old ready to experience some vintage Dead music. Their spirits raised my own, and the excitement continued to build until the Dark Star Orchestra took the stage a few minutes after 9:00 P.M.

The band kicked off their first set with an always welcomed version of “Bertha”. Unfortunately, the song was somewhat lacking as the band didn’t perform with the amount of energy I had expected it to bring. The first set had a tremendous song list, but the music wasn’t up to standards during several moments throughout. There were a few gems buried within the dragging first set including a passionate “Tennessee Jed” and the set closer “Deal” that was hopefully to be an indication of more fire and grit from the group in the following set.

I had only seen Dark Star Orchestra once prior to this performance, but I knew the band was capable of more than what it had showed during its first set. From the opening notes of the “Samson and Delilah” that opened the second set, it was noticeable that the show was about to pick up. The second set was indeed much better than the first, containing several moments of unbridled exuberance coupled with some tasty improvisational freak-outs. As the set carried itself towards its finish, each song, like in true Grateful Dead fashion, built upon the former and took the crowd on a unique journey towards something distant yet entirely familiar.

“Fire on the Mountain” was worth the price of admission in itself. Well over ten minutes in length, Dark Star Orchestra’s improvisational prowess crushed “FOTM” into fantastic oblivion and rebuild the work into satisfying completion. I wondered at this point where this energy had been the whole first set! The remaining part of the second set, “Truckin > Drums > The Other One > Wharf Rat > Around and Around”, featured dynamic changes throughout and had my skin crawling with joyous amazement. Dark Star Orchestra encored with a short but rockin’ version of “US Blues” that had everyone singing along. Thankfully, the ‘chicken shack’ lyric reminded me that I hadn’t eaten all day, and after “US Blues”, my friends and decided it was time to call it a night and slipped away into the cold Detroit evening.

So again, What is Dark Star Orchestra? Like the wonderfully penned lyrics of Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, it is entirely up to personal interpretation. Don’t expect an exact representation of Grateful Dead music from Dark Star Orchestra. Although the band mimics the sounds of the Dead, a Dark Star Orchestra show takes on a life of its own for better and sometimes for worse. However, the essence of what the band truly does should not be lost as it provides an opportunity for individuals like myself to enjoy some of the greatest songs ever written for the live setting. Having the chance to see Dead tunes performed by capable musicians is certainly a strong enough draw for Dark Star Orchestra’s many fans, and I can’t blame them...if one attends a Dark Star Show with the proper amount of expectations, he or she will have those expectations met and possibly many more.

SHOW PLAYED - 2.5.78 - UniDome - University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls IA - Sunday

Set One: Bertha > Good Lovin' ; Brown Eyed Women ; El Paso; Tennessee Jed ; Sunrise ; New Minglewood Blues ; Friend Of The Devil ; Passenger ; Deal

Set Two: Samson And Delilah ; Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain ; Truckin' > Drums > The Other One > Wharf Rat > Around And Around

Encore: U.S. Blues

Filler: Cats Under The Stars ; I Second That Emotion

Greg's Photo Gallery From The Show



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