THREE NIGHTS WITH DARK STAR AT THE FOX

02/06/89 Henry J Kaiser Convention Center - Oakland, CA
Set 1: Beer Barrel Polka, Not Fade Away, Wang Dang Doodle, Jack A Roe, Queen Jane, Brown Eyed Women, Cassidy > Tennessee Jed
Set 2: Hell In A Bucket > Scarlet Begonias > Looks Like Rain > Terrapin Station > Jam* > Drums** > Jam > The Other One > Stella Blue > Turn On Your Love Light
E: Black Muddy River

07/30/88 Laguna Seca Recreation Area - Laguna Seca, CA
Set 1: Let The Good Times Roll > Feel Like A Stranger, Loser, Minglewood Blues, Row Jimmy, Memphis Blues, When Push Comes To Shove > The Music Never Stopped > Don't Ease Me In
Set 2: Victim Or The Crime, Touch Of Gray, Estimated Prophet > Eyes Of The World > Drums > Space > Smokestack Lightning > Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad > Wharf Rat > Throwin' Stones > One More Saturday Night
E: US Blues > Knockin' On Heaven's Door

08/04/79 Oakland Auditorium Arena - Oakland, CA
Set 1: Jack Straw, They Love Each Other, Mama Tried > Mexicali Blues, Peggy-O, Minglewood Blues, Tennessee Jed, El Paso, Althea, Lost Sailor > Deal
Set 2: Passenger, Friend Of The Devil, Samson & Delilah, Shakedown Street > Playin' In The Band > Drums > Stella Blue > Sugar Magnolia
E: U.S. Blues

Thanks to a “Little Help >From my [Bud],” I was able to catch every night of the Dark Star Orchestra’s three-night stand at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, CO. The culmination of the three days was a Saint Patrick’s Day throw-down where they took things back a decade. Let me start by saying I love the Grateful Dead. I loved them before I even knew that they were the ones singing these certain songs I had endeared. Let me also say that I was unfortunate enough to only see the Dead once. I cannot claim to be the biggest Grateful Dead aficionado, but I do have hours and hours on disk, which is a cornerstone of my most prized possessions.

All disclaimers aside I am going to lay on the table a bold statement: Dark Star Orchestra is the Grateful Dead reincarnated. While I don’t particularly believe in reincarnation, or at least have no relevant comment on the subject, Dark Star is undoubtedly the closest you can come to seeing a Dead show in this era. All other original members of the band have gone their separate ways and, while they all keep the spirit alive, they have added their own twists and turns to the legend.

DSO takes a very erudite approach to being a Dead cover band. I could only assume that they have spent an abundance of time to learning the ways of the Dead inside and out. Styles, vocals, scales, beats, transitions, stage presence, they have it all nailed. The man who takes on the role of Bob Weir honestly even looks like Bobby himself. They are musicians and musical historians. They recreate the Dead experience in similar fashion to Confederates recreating the Civil War, only the notion of the former is slightly more noble and entertaining in my opinion.

Although the first night was undoubtedly my favorite, with the third and second running up accordingly, all three nights were amazing. I missed the majority of the first set but the second set was beyond words. The "Scarlet Begonias>Looks Like Rain>Terrapin Station>Jam" was incredible. "Looks Like Rain" always conjures up emotions and it was played with a passion that elicited these nostalgias. The "Terrapin Station" was beautifully executed with a fluidity that I might dare say the Dead had lost grip of during this period. The "Other One" came out of a lengthy drum and jam period with veracity and blaring intensity. The jam meandered before melting into a soulful "Stella Blue." It was at this point that I realized I had been spending about two-thirds of the time with my eyes closed, effortlessly imagining that I was experiencing the real thing. "Black Muddy River" closed the first night and hit another soft spot in my taste of Dead tunes. It’s shocking how on the money they are in terms of the vocal with shone through in those two, latter mentioned tunes.

The second night was admittedly not on the same level as the encasing nights. The "Row Jimmy," however, was as sweet as expected. The three-song-segue, comprised of "When Push Comes To Shove > The Music Never Stopped > Don't Ease Me In," that ended the set was nothing short of phenomenal leaving me with high expectations for the second set. Things got soaring during the "Estimated Prophet>Eyes of the World" which meandered into an extended jam intermingled with drums. The night ended with an appropriate "One More Saturday Night." Again I had fallen victim to the ecstatically deceiving sensation of having seen a Dead show.

The third night infused high expectations with Saint Patrick’s Day festivities. I was hoping to hear "The Eleven" with some Irish Dead-style jamming but I was neither compensated nor disappointed. What blew me away the most on the last evening was the fact that I could recognize that they were playing a show from the late 1970’s. They have a great aptitude in really expressing the musical voice of the era they are recreating. It’s obvious in the difference in drums and space jams. It’s obvious from the tools and effects they used. This, in my opinion, is what makes Dark Star Orchestra so worthwhile. The first set supplied a nice old-school rendition of "Mama Tried>Mexicali Blues." The second set had a gorgeous "Friend of the Devil," which happened to be my first favorite song, even before I knew the Dead were behind it. The real jamming picked back up during "Shakedown Street>Playin’ in the Band" which ambled about for a while until we got another Stella Blue. No one complained though I’m sure. Although it was an Irish night they encored with "U.S. Blues" to end the three-night stand.

I could not have asked for more. I couldn’t have asked for a better recreation of the experience I constantly kick myself for having missed. Maybe they didn’t play "I Know You Rider" or "Me and My Uncle" or anything with Colorado references. But you can’t judge something based on what didn’t happen, so all in all it was an amazing three nights. I have great respect for what Dark Star Orchestra does and along the way I felt I learned some things as I was engulfed in the blissful freedom created by the music of the Dead. Long live the legend. Let it Grow.

All the years combine,
They melt into a dream,

It all rolls into one,
And nothing comes for free,

When you hear that song,
Crying like the wind,
It seems like all this life,
Was just a dream.

Ian Koudstaal
JamBase Boulder Correspondent
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 3/21/02]

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