Dark Star Orchestra | Reno | Review

By: Brennan Lagasse

Dark Star Orchestra :: 04.10.11 :: Knitting Factory :: Reno, NV

DSO in Reno by Breannan Lagasse
No matter where we are, it’s always fun to show up to a town where the Grateful Dead tribe has pulled in for a visit. Dark Star Orchestra (DSO) has played a strong role in the continuance of the spirit of the Grateful Dead for some time now, and with Jeff Mattson settled in as the lead role in the band they show no signs of slowing down. In fact, after their effort at the Knitting Factory it seems this long strange trip is only going to get stranger.

Doing my best to not get overly mesmerized by the millions of flashing lights on the casino strip in Reno, I rolled into the intimate venue and was immediately treated to the sights and sounds of our current incarnation of the Grateful Dead tribe. Young and old Deadheads mingled, stories were shared, and for those who still hold this music near and dear, you could only help but smile as one old schooler was overheard talking about seeing the Dead in Reno during the 80s, while another teenager explained how stoked he was to be on DSO tour having never been able to see the Grateful Dead.

Coming off a highly regarded three night stint in San Francisco, with a show in Santa Cruz before that, one could only wonder what sort of juice the band would have left at the end of a five night run. Up in Tahoe we’ve had a record winter, and even though DSO wasn’t playing at the Lake on this tour, they couldn’t possibly have picked a show with a more appropriate opener for the ski bum Heads in the crowd than “Cold Rain and Snow.” Segueing into a “New Minglewood Blues,” the set then took its first break before the Brent Mydland offering “Easy To Love You.” Those that play the DSO setlist game – i.e. trying to guess what time period or specific show the band might be performing on a given night - immediately chattered that the show had to be from the 80s or possibly as late as 1990. Brent unfortunately passed away in July 1990, so unless the show was an original setlist it had to be played within this time frame. The cohesion in DSO was tight on this evening. so it was much easier to give in to the melodic rhythms and layered sounds emanating from the six members playing onstage than play the setlist game.

DSO by James Young
Rob Barraco continues to deliver passionate performances wherever, whenever and with whomever he is playing. The fire he brings through the keyboards, as well as through his vocals, is always filled with zest, and it was no different on this night in Reno. With the steady beats of percussionists Dino English and Rob Koritz, along with the rhythmic tones of Rob Eaton and steady bass of Kevin Rosen, Jeff Mattson is clearly given room to fly. The segue ending the first set, “Cassidy > Deal,” really allowed Mattson to shine, particularly his truly memorable improvisational work on “Cassidy.” The original fat man would be proud, and would’ve have surely enjoyed how riled up the crowd got for the set closing jam out of “Deal.”

Set Two brought more of the same energy where Set One left off. A quintessential late period Grateful Dead run of “Foolish Heart > Looks Like Rain > Cumberland Blues” was seamless until DSO busted into a sing-along version of The Band classic “The Weight.” Here was another example of the fine musicianship DSO employs, as each of the four frontline band members took lead on each of the first four vocal sections. Barraco then bobbed and weaved the Knitting Factory through a soaring “Hey Pockey Way” before an extended “Drums > Space” segment that had just about the whole place off twirling to another planet. In classic style, DSO emerged from the outer regions post “Space” and just laid into “The Other One > Wharf Rat > Good Lovin” to make sure everyone shook every bone before the night’s festivities came to an end.

After a blistering encore of The Beatles’“Revolution,” Barraco offered a quick story that not only did the Grateful Dead originally perform this show back on March 28th in 1990 at the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, NY, but at that time his buddy Jeff Mattson was so sick he had to give up his tickets to Rob who ended up “thoroughly enjoying the show,” Eaton then stepped out to make mention of the good times the band has had playing the “Grateful Dead Marathon” they were just about to wrap up on the current tour.

Then, they brought out seventh band member Lisa Mackey for a vocally driven extremely moving rendition of “Strange Man.” Even after five straight shows and so many songs, DSO still had one more left in them and treated the Reno/Tahoe crowd to a bluesy, down & dirty take on the old Pig Pen classic “Easy Wind.” It sure has been a long, strange trip, some 46-odd years in the making, but with DSO playing their part to keep the spirit alive, there seems to be no end in sight for these sort of psychedelic adventures.


Performing 3/28/90 - Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, NY

Set One: Cold Rain & Snow > New Minglewood Blues, Easy To Love You, High Time, Queen Jane Approximately, Loose Lucy, Cassidy > Deal
Set Two: Foolish Heart > Looks Like Rain > Cumberland Blues > The Weight, Hey Pocky Way > Drums > Space > The Other One > Wharf Rat > Good Lovin'
E: Revolution
Filler: Strange Man, Easy Wind

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[Published on: 4/25/11]

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