Dark Star Orchestra | 1.23.04 | Newport Music Hall | Columbus, OH
Performing 7.13.1976 | Orpheum Theatre | San Francisco, CA (Donna Show)
I: Half Step, Big River, Peggy-O, Cassidy, Crazy Fingers > Let it Grow > drums > Let it Grow > Might As Well
II: Music, Roses, Samson, High Time, St. Stephen > NFA > St. Stephen > Sugar Magnolia > Stella Blue > Sunshine Daydream
Encore: Dancin' in the Streets
Filler: Strange Man
Amidst the first big snowstorm of the year, with four to seven inches expected, the Newport Music Hall in Columbus, Ohio, still managed to draw an almost full house for Dark Star Orchestra. Despite the fact that the venue's heating system was down and one of the lead musicians almost missed the show due to inclement weather, the night was still a blast as we made the long, strange trip back to July 13, 1976.
A great "settling-in" tune, opener "Mississippi Half-Step" was an opportunity for the crowd to get ready for the emotions that are evoked by the Grateful Dead's music. On a no-frills stage, dressed in T-shirts and jeans, the band delivered a rendition of this sing-along classic that showed the tremendous attention to detail it takes to emulate the Dead. With minimal lighting but spectacular sound, Dark Star Orchestra led the way back to San Francisco's Orpheum Theater, 1976.
One of the greatest things about seeing a Dark Star show is the art of trying to figure out which show they're covering... or at least what year. By the second song the buzz in the crowd had already settled on the decade: it was a telltale '70s show with Donna on vocals and a lively "Big River," a Johnny Cash tune that debuted on the Steal Your Face album released just weeks before this show. Scott Larned's keyboards mimicked the days of Keith Godchaux well, as they drove this tune with a fast-paced energy and just a touch of the blues.
A personal favorite, "Peggy-O" (sometimes titled "Fennario") made an appearance as song three, short as usual, but soft and sweet just like Jerry liked to play it. John Kadlecik's uncanny resemblance to Jerry Garcia's singing style was particularly apparent through this ballad that Bob Dylan made popular in 1962.
The warm-up notes of the next song had the crowd cheering before the lights even went up. "Cassidy," backed by Lisa Mackey's powerful Donna vocals, was Rob Eaton's chance to really shine. Rob (who even kind of looks like Bob Weir!) delivered a strong and energetic version of this Weir tune, proving that the years he spent watching Bob on stage really paid off. In the Grateful Dead community since the 1970s, Rob Eaton's true mastery of the Dead's music makes the band worth watching in itself.
Beautiful harmonies and lots of twirling girls in the audience made "Crazy Fingers" a fun and unusual addition to this set list. Popular with Jerry in the 1990s, "Crazy Fingers'" slow and winding pace led to an intense guitar solo by Kadlecik while Lisa Mackey (Donna) led the crowd in gettin' down.
The Newport finally opened the balcony for "Let It Grow," giving the audience room to fill out and dance around. The lengthy solos during this tune led the band into much darker territory as a drums solo worked its way in. Dino English and Rob Koritz, both with backgrounds in jazz, laid down beats that brought the crowd to its highest volume of the evening. Fading in and out of "Let It Grow," the drummers let loose for over five minutes until bounding back into "Let It Grow."
"Might As Well" ended the set, clinching the notion that this was a late-70s, probably 1976, show. Debuting as an opener in Portland, Oregon in June of 1976, "Might As Well" saw most of its glory in 1976 and 1977 and then again in the mid-80s. Dark Star's version was delivered with smiles and enthusiasm from the band just before taking set break.
At 11:15 p.m. the lights went down for Set II. A really hot intro into "The Music Never Stopped" got the crowd back on their feet and singing along right away. The lights settled to a warm orange and made up for the lack of heat in the venue once again as the crowd danced to this classic mid-70s tune.
"It Must Have Been The Roses" provided a strong center to draw the crowd out of set-break conversation and back into the music. Harmonies by "Donna" and the boys were a nice and mellow lead in to the strong and energetic "Samson and Delilah" to follow.
Focused around a strong lead guitar and powerful drums, "Samson and Delilah" brought the freaks out in the audience. A staple Dead tune that lasted decades without fail, "S & D" grabbed the attention of true Deadheads by indicating a possible "St. Stephen" sometime later in the evening.
"High Time," an earlier Dead tune from the late-60s, was brought back to life after several years on the shelf about a month before this Orpheum show. These beautiful Hunter/Garcia lyrics made their way onto Workingman's Dead in 1970, but once released didn't see much play time until reemerging in June of 1976.
The crowd got their predicted "St. Stephen" toward the end of Set II, giving a slow lead to a strong "Not Fade Away," both of which were extremely jammy and fun. A lights-off jam took place for about five minutes of the interlude before exploding into "Sugar Magnolia" and eventually "Sunshine Daydream."
Just before the encore, the token slow Jerry tune, "Stella Blue," gave the audience a moment to reflect on the impact of the music and the environment of the evening. Encore rumors were floating--"US Blues" and "Johnny B. Goode" among the most popular guesses--while the band ended the second set with a "Sunshine Daydream" full of screaming and laughter.
"Dancin' in the Streets," another popular 1976 encore, gave the show a funky ending with lots of opportunity to shake it one last time in the summer of '76 before venturing back out into the blizzard conditions of mid-Ohio in January '04. Lisa Mackey filled the encore with a solemn version of "Strange Man," which gave her voice the spotlight it deserved and brought the show to a close.
Words by: Samantha Hanford
Images by: Mark Frost
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