Dark Star Orchestra 10.7.11

The Aggie Theater
Fort Collins, CO

Words & Photos By Nicholas Stock

Continuing what I'm now calling “Deadtober” which will culminate with The Motet covering the Grateful Dead for Halloween, Amy and I headed out to the Aggie to catch Dark Star Orchestra. It was a nice night and the crowd was decent. As good people were out for a real good time, the hippie kids were in full force. DSO is a band I've caught a number of times, but after the departure of John Kadlecik, I was curious to see how they were sounding with Zen Trickster Jeff Mattson on lead guitar. I also have the utmost respect for keyboardist and Phil and Friends and The Other Ones alumni Rob Barraco. DSO is a combination of some truly skilled musicians, and it was time after a number of years to catch them out in Colorado again.

For those that don't know, Dark Star recreates Dead Shows from the past with incredible accuracy. They performed a great show from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, that occurred on October 21, 1972. It was classic Dead at the height of their single drummer sound. Here is the setlist they performed:

SET I: Me and My Uncle, Beat It On Down The Line, Sugaree, El Paso, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider, Black Throated Wind, Tennessee Jed, Jack Straw, Loser, Playing In The Band

SET II: The Promised Land, Brown Eyed Women, Big River, He's Gone, Greatest Story Ever Told, Bird Song, Truckin > The Other One > Morning Dew, Sugar Magnolia

ENCORE: Johnny B. Goode

It was just a solid show all night long. It began around 9:35 and went well past 1:00 AM. As kids pondered the year of the show, I was fairly sure it was from the early 70s given the setlist. “China Cat > Rider” was absolutely sublime with a deep version of “Black Throated Wind”. They finished the first set with a huge, jam-infused “Playing In the Band”. The first set stretched to almost an hour and half, ending just around 11:00 PM. Hippies twirled as they played on. I went out to catch some air at setbreak with the rest of the family.  

The second set was only describable as sick. “The Promised Land” opener was kicked up a notch by the incredible cover of Johnny Cash's “Big River”. The highlight of the show was by far the “Truckin > The Other One > Morning Dew”. It was a huge tidal wave that washed over the entire second set. Mattson soared over Rob Eaton's rhythm guitar; their back and forth interplay fit the bill incredibly well. Lisa Mackey's vocals were enough to make Donna Jean herself jealous as she stepped in from time to time during the show. I was just blown away. For years I've honestly avoided Dark Star dismissing them as a cover band, a good cover band, but a cover band nonetheless. The fact of the matter is they are so far beyond a simple cover band I almost feel silly thinking of them as such. They are musical historians who work tirelessly to recreate these wonderful shows from years gone by. Without DSO, there would be no real way to re-experience these long lost gems. I'm glad I finally went back to see DSO as they certainly made a Friday night in Fort Collins memorable.


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