Dark Star Orchestra – October 20th – The Fox Theatre

_MG_6029-2Photos by Michael Liggett

The Scene: It’s amazing how music can change the mood of a crowd. Last Sunday Dark Star Orchestra closed their three-night run at the Fox Theatre and left the audience with a glaze of merriment despite the obvious tension that hung in the air in the beginning of the evening. The crowd went from sparse to bustling through the course of the show, and was diverse: families with small children, old hippies and new, and a big blue dancing bear showed up–now that’s some fan deadication.

Dark Star Orchestra: Not surprisingly, DSO started the show without an opener. When the classic Grateful Dead cover band took the stage the center dance floor still had a lot of jamming space available–probably due to the large crowd of people who had convened in the bar to watch the Denver Broncos slowly fall to the Indianapolis Colts. As the game became more and more desperate, individuals gave up on watching and finally resigned themselves to the show, which proved to be far more rewarding than the football “entertainment” that had distracted them.

The setlist for the evening was their own. If you don’t know, most Dark Star shows are covers of Dead shows in their entirety. Their approach provides fans with a unique opportunity–old fans who actually saw the Dead can take a stroll down memory lane, and young or new fans who didn’t catch the wave before Jerry Garcia died have a chance to take a glimpse into the amazing energy that this beloved band created when they were in their prime. On Friday and Saturday DSO covered the famed Winter Wonderland shows in the fall of ’78. On Sunday, however, they made up their own setlist, which is kind of different and cool in it’s own way too–Dark Star has been touring for over 15 years, so these “Original Setlists” that they do are (naturally) the songs that they love to play, so you know they are all going to kick ass.

Rob Eaton’s voice echoed the memory of Jerry as they kicked off the performance with “Terrapin Station.” After that, they transitioned into the Bobby Weir favorite “Playing In The Band” and then “High Time.” It was an awesome intro; it seemed unfortunate at the time that the crowd was sparse, but that changed as the night progressed.

Next they played “Money, Money,” a song that was once punctuated with the vocals of Donna Godchaux. One might argue that DSO vocalist Lisa Mackey does the song more justice than Donna did in the first place–her delivery is more polished, and her voice is more stable. After that, they threw down a funky “Dupree’s Diamond Blues,” dedicated “Monkey And The Engineer” to a little girl for her birthday, and then went into a heartful “I’ll Take A Melody.” Next, they turned up the Rock with “Easy Wind;” keyboard player Rob Barraco delivered an excellent performance on this song, written by the lost Ron “Pigpen” McKernan. They finished the first set with a “Cumberland Blues” > “Playing in the Band” combo that brought the audience full-circle. By set break, the main room of the Fox had filled to a pleasant level of coziness and the mood was warmed to a cheery glow. All thoughts of football were long gone, and the audience anxiously awaited the second half of the show.

“Scarlet Begonias” is always a crowd pleaser. When DSO launched the second set with this classic number, the energy level in the Fox exploded. From there, they went right into “Fire On The Mountain” and the crowd engaged in a full-on funky dance party. They continued with “The Stranger,” and “The Music Never Stopped.”  “Unbroken Chain” pointed the audience’s attention toward DSO’s new bassist, Skip Vangelas; his execution was on-point as he tackled the textbook Phil Lesh song. From there, they went into the standard Dead drum solo, which went on for about 15 minutes.

After the drum solo, they slowed it down with “Space” but after that, the crowd erupted into its second wind the with an “Eyes of the World” > “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad” > “Morning Dew” trifecta to finish the set. Of course, the audience wanted just a little more; they got their wish with an encore performanrce of Janice Joplin’s quintessentially psychedelic song “White Rabbit” and the DSO rendition was indeed mind-blowing. All in all, it was a pretty ordinary DSO performance–they are all extraordinary, and just like the Grateful Dead, they always leave their fans with a certain level of elation regardless of external circumstances.

Set 1: Terrapin Station > Playing In The Band > High Time ; Money Money ; Dupree’s Diamond Blues > Monkey And The Engineer > I’ll Take A Melody ; Easy Wind ; Cumberland Blues > Playing In The Band (reprise)

Set 2: Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain > The Stranger (Two Souls in Communion) > The Music Never Stopped > Unbroken Chain > drums > Space> Eyes Of The World > Going Down The Road Feeling Bad > Morning Dew

Encore: White Rabbit

Energy: A
Musicianship: A
Sound: A
Stage Presence: B-
Set/ Light Show: B

Overall: A


Who Is Jeanette Barrow

Audiophile. Logomaniac. I must get to the show.