The Scene: For folks over the age of 40, Saturday night at the Boulder Theater was a blast from the past. For us neo-deadheads, Saturday night brought us a taste of what we’ve always dreamed of experiencing, but had never had the chance. No matter what age, Dark Star Orchestra brought together new fans with old for a rocking good time that would have done Jerry, Phil, Bob and the rest, real proud. Sporting their Colorado-themed Dead attire, Dark Star Orchestra, or “DSO,” took the stage around 9 o’ clock. As the band members took position, the Boulder Theater was instantly transformed to a time many, many years ago. The date was June 15, 1985 and the place was Berkeley, California at the famous outdoor amphitheater known as “The Greek.”
Dark Star Orchestra: With 3 guitars, 2 drumsets, and a couple keyboards, the 6 dudes known as DSO opened with “Touch Of Grey.” From the moment the lights went down, the energy went up and the night gave promise for an incredible and funky 3 hours of Dead revival. A slow and kaleidoscopic “Friend Of The Devil” brought us into set one, one of the only songs of the night that stood on it’s own. After this rendition of “Friend” was one of the only breaks between songs we had all evening. Taking a moment to prepare for the remainder of a much more fast-paced first set, DSO then led into “Dupree’s Diamond Blues.” This was a welcomed surprised to all, as the song isn’t one we are often able to hear live. Jeff Mattson on the lead guitar did justice to Jerry’s vocals before the crew moved into “Me And My Uncle.”
The energy level was turned up even higher with the first few cords of “Big River,” with Rob Eaton emulating quite impressively the look and sound of our beloved Bobby. As one of my favorite country-rock-style Dead tracks, I thought this would be the highlight of the night. As it would turn out later, I had underestimated the limits that DSO would push. Wrapping up the first set with a vibrant and twirl-able “Might As Well,” we were left around 10pm with no idea what the next set had in store.
We were in store for an incredible, almost 2-hour second set of unstoppable music and jams. Set two opened with “China Cat Sunflower,” where a friend and I made our way as far to the front as was possible. Weaving between folks of all shapes and sizes twirling, bobbing and bouncing, the radiant vibes could be felt connecting each of us. When a band is just rockin’, and you look around at all the glowing faces in the audience and the atmosphere surrounding you all feels like nothing you’ve ever felt before – this was where we were. Cue “I Know You Rider,” and the Colorado crowd goes wild. Lights went up as Matson, Eaton, bassist Skip Vangelas and every last fan in the theater sang, in perfect unison, “I’d shine my light in the cool Colorado rain,” making for what may have been one of the most memorable moments yet at the Boulder Theater.
Next, it was time for the classic second-night jam, “Dark Star,” which lead into “Terrapin Station,” which then lead into a tremendous two-man drum solo. Rob Koritz and Dino English started facing front, rocking on their respective drumsets before turning, battling it out back-to-back on the bongos. Alternating between a mass array of drums and percussion, the drummers dueled it out against a colorfully psychedelic backdrop, and the dual-solos sounded impeccable.
Following the drums came the soft and soothing “The Wheel,” a calm reprieve before DSO busted into “Gimme Some Lovin'” and the crowd got riled up all over again. With the words, “I’m so glad you made it,” came what we thought might be the end of the evening, until the band pushed its limits again, and again. The first of the late evening surprises came with “Throwing Stones,” possibly my all-time favorite Bobby track and another great sing-along to bring us all back together for the last hoorah of the night. But, wait! “Not Fade Away” finally came as the official close to the second set. However, the set never came to a real close, with the audience clapping and relentlessly chanting, “Know my love will not fade away,” until the band was simply forced to make their way back on to the stage.
A three-part encore ensued, including a rambunctious “U.S. Blues” with red, white and blue lights to boot. Another Bobby classic, “Greatest Story Ever Told,” wrapped up the evening just before 1am and brought out the 7th and final member of DSO, Lisa Mackey. The co-ed vocal duet between Eaton and Mackey was a great finishing touch to a phenomenal performance, and the night concluded leaving us with, precisely, a great story to tell. Keyboardist Rob Barraco put an end to the guessing game, announced the time and place that the night’s show originated, and the evening was a wrap.
Stage Presence: B+
Set/Light Show: A-