Photos by Lori Sky Twohy
The line was long and full of excited fans waiting in anticipation to get in to the Orange Peel February 25, 2012, just minutes before Dark Star Orchestra was about to take stage. Truckin’ along since 1997, the band is a straight up tribute to rock’s longest and perhaps strangest trip: the Grateful Dead. In their way in preserving the spirit of the three-decade long ultimate jam band, each performance played is from an original show, chosen out of the Dead Base (the great list of all Grateful Dead setlists.) Just like an orchestra plays the music of the great masters/composers, so does Dark Star Orchestra (DSO) by recreating the ingenuousness of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead Band. In this case, they chose and performed a sold out show in Williamsburg,Virginia on April 15, 1978 in it’s entirety.
They began the night with “MississippiHalf-step,” following with “Friend of the Devil,” “El Paso,” and “Brown-eyed Woman” to name off a few. As soon as the first few notes of “Deal” were played, everyone’s hands went up in the air and sang along to this classic, and “If I told you all that went down, it would burn off both of your ears (lyrics)” The audience’s energy only increased from there as DSO continued to keep the flow consistent through “Bertha” and into the interactive tune “Good Lovin,’ where the crowed echo’s “bab-y.” That was a great block of high energy jams, definite staple crowd pleasers.
I noticed throughout the majority of the show each of the musicians stayed true to the original vocals of the “Dead” and played attention to detail by using era specific instrumentation and placement. Lead guitarist and vocalist Jeff Matson mirrors Jerry Garcia’s style, tone and even his looks! Matson, who was also in Zen Trixters and The Donna Jean Godchaux band, joined DSO after previous lead guitarist John Kadlecik was invited to tour and join original Grateful Dead members Phil Lesh and Bob Weir in their band Furthur. There was a polished similarity in the style of Bob Weir, which was performed by rhythm guitarist Rob Eaton, as Kevin Rosen emulated the bass and vocals of Phil Lesh. An amiable contribution was delivered by Lisa Mackey in the song “Sunrise.” She sings harmony like Donna Godchaux did with the Grateful Dead. It was impressive to hear the accuracy in the vocals with these great musicians.
The band members seemed to be having just as much fun as the crowd. The show lasted for more than 3 hours with a highlight being between sets; all the musicians left the stage as drummers Rob Koritz and Dino English went on to bang out; trumping drum beats, meshing seamlessly through their 20 minute drum solo. That was an amazing jam session which avid Grateful dead fans know as “space.” The band came together again to channel the “Dead.” Laying down the chords, the psychedelic melodies of Rob Barraco (keys and vocals) helps to finish off the last set with “Morning Dew,” “Around and around,” “one more Saturday night,” and with “Help on the way.” They were honest to the original “Slipknot,” paying the whole interlude, then slipping into “Franklin’s Tower” to complete the evening.
The best thing about DSO is their passion and uncanny ability to recapture the sound of the classic, one and only Grateful Dead. First generation deadheads, like my father, joined me that night and was able to revisit and follow the music, feeling like he was in a melodic, trance-like trip. To many like him the Grateful Dead’s freeform live shows were rites of passage. Seeing DSO live is a great way for people to check out and learn what the Grateful Dead were all about. After 15 years of touring together and more than 2000 tribute shows, at the rate they’re groovin,’ they’ll surpass the number of live shows in no time! We are grateful the “Dead” will never die.