Dark Star Orchestra | 02.10 | Virginia

Words & Images by: James Young

Dark Star Orchestra :: 02.10.09 :: The National :: Richmond, VA

Dark Star Orchestra :: 02.10 :: Virginia
"Richmond is one of those Grateful Dead cities," was the final word on the matter from Rob Eaton, the "Bob Weir" persona of Dark Star Orchestra. For the second time in six weeks the monumental tribute band filled The National, Richmond's newest music hall. These gatherings draw an extraordinary crowd of Deadheads, young and old, eager to soak in the experience of a DSO show. Beyond reproducing shows from the Dead's extensive 30 years on the road, the band and the audience seem to have formed an illusive understanding that together they will recreate the environment that surrounded the Grateful Dead. Outside, vendors sold shirts and posters, while a group of kids far too young to have seen the original band discussed how far across the country they were following DSO. Inside, they were serving Dark Starr Stout, an aptly named brew from Starr Hill Brewery.

The show started early with the band onstage at 7:30 p.m., and as the crowd grew so did the energy in the building. The band would recreate a show from October 14, 1976 originally performed at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The set started with a solid version of "The Promised Land." The National hosts one of the most impressive sound systems on the East Coast and as bassist Kevin Rosen plucked away, the rumble enveloped the room and shook the audience to the core. As they were playing a '76 show, Lisa Mackey joined on vocals for "They Love Each Other." Her presence is powerful and she captures Donna Godchaux masterfully. Of all the songs from '70s Dead, "Ramble On Rose" is a distinctively potent mix of thoughtful lyrics and wailing guitar licks. Guitarist John Kadlecik manages to call forth an impressive Jerry Garcia, as he hit the high notes at the climax of the song, which made the audience sway, eyes closed, transported back to '76. The set ended with renditions of "The Music Never Stopped" and "Scarlet Begonias."

Dark Star Orchestra :: 02.10 :: Virginia
By the end of the first set, the house was completely packed. Lines twisted around the bar areas and bathrooms, and the balcony seats were filled. True to the style of the Grateful Dead, the second set proved to be intense, rich with strong spacey jams. They started with "Minglewood Blues," but it was when they launched into "Samson & Delilah," that the audience went wild. Drummers Dino English and Rob Koritz pounded away like the Rhythm Devils themselves as the crowd jumped and bent to their indulgent beat. They closed out the set with a meandering "Dancin in the Streets" that segued into "Wharf Rat," back into "Dancin" and finally ended with "Around and Around." The audience roared for more, and they got it. Dark Star finished the original '76 set with "Johnny B. Goode." For filler songs the crew brought a mic out for keyboardist Rob Barraco, who sang "Next Time You See Me," a rare and delightful tune. For the final number the band performed "So Many Roads." This song builds patiently and at its peak tugs at emotional chords. Kadlecik's superior Garcia impersonation surrounded the crowd, their hands raised to the sky, gripped with delight.

Satisfied, the audience poured out of the building and into the street smelling of overpriced beer and patchouli. Though the show was over, the impression that Dark Star left will last. In a town of Deadheads the best affirmation that a Grateful Dead cover band can get is the repeated turnout of so many enchanted fans. If they continue to return so will we.

Dark Star Orchestra :: 02.10.09 :: The National :: Richmond, VA
Set 1: Promised Land, They Love Each Other, Cassidy, Peggy-O, Big River, Ramble On Rose, L.L. Rain, Deal, El Paso, Tennessee Jed, Music Never Stopped, Scarlet Begonias
Set 2: Minglewood Blues, Mississippi Half Step, Samson & Delilah, Ship Of Fools, Dancin in the Streets > Wharf Rat > Dancin > Around & Around
Encore: Johnny B. Goode
"Filler": Next Time You See Me > So Many Roads

Continue reading for more pics of DSO in Virginia...

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