Dark Star Orchestra & Heart of Gold Band :: May 8th, 2004 :: The Fillmore :: San Francisco

Dark Star Orchestra brought their tribute to the music of the Grateful Dead to The Fillmore in San Francisco for a sold out crowd on Saturday May 8, 2004. If you have never seen DSO, they play the full set list from an actual Dead show, not revealing which show they have played until the end. This leads to much speculation as Deadheads try to guess which show they are playing. Amazingly some folks can figure it out by show's end just from the songs played and in what order. Dark Star Orchestra also pays close attention to which musicians were in the Dead when that show was played, sometimes having two drummers or just one, or a female vocalist when appropriate, studying actual stage layouts which the Dead used during that particular period, playing similar instruments, and using the same type of amps used by Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia. This night they played New Haven, CT 5/5/77, considered by many to be from one of the best periods of the Grateful Dead.

Founded in the Chicago area in 1997 by friends and fellow musicians John Kadlecik (lead guitar), Kevin Rosen (bass), Scott Larned (keys), and Lisa Mackey (vocals), Dark Star Orchestra has been touring constantly coast to coast for the past few years, becoming the most well known Dead tribute band around today. Joining the others players are Rob Eaton (rhythm guitar), Dino English (drums stage right,) and Rob Koritz (drums stage left). The band not only plays the music of the Dead but they strive to recreate the vibe and feeling of attending a Dead show to their audiences. Older and younger Deadheads, many of whom never saw the Grateful Dead perform live, flock to their shows to grab onto a little bit of Dead history and immerse themselves into one of the greatest touring bands of all time. The band has also branched out to ocassionally play set lists from the Jerry Garcia Band, as well as original setlists of Dead tunes.

Donna Jean Godchaux MacKay and the Heart of Gold Band opened, playing a short 35-minute set. Donna sang "Sunrise," one of her songs with the Grateful Dead, which brought shivers to everyone in attendance. She looks absolutely marvelous, she sings great, and has unbelievable charisma on stage. The audience just loved her, just like back in the day when she was a member of the Grateful Dead. Say what you will about Donna Jean's singing with the Dead in the '70s, especially her wails on "Playin' in the Band," but she can really sing. The HOG Band is very much a family affair, with Donna's husband David MacKay on bass, her son Zion Godchaux on guitar (who very much resembles his late father Keith Godchaux), Keith's brother Brian Godchaux on mandolin and fiddle, Greg Anton of Zero fame and an original HOG band member on drums, Russ Randolph on percussion, and HOG original keyboardist Mark Adler. The played some new songs off of their new CD At The Table and a few Keith and Donna Band tunes as well.

This night Dark Star Orchestra alternated having their "Donna" (Lisa Mackey) singing on stage with the real Donna Jean performing on "The Music Never Stopped," (her contributions on this one brought the house down) "Sugaree," "Looks Like Rain," "Bertha," "Deal," "Fire on the Mountain," (Lisa sang "Scarlet," Donna sang "Fire"). Must be a flashback for her to be there singing those songs in front of a sold-out Fillmore full of Deadheads. Lisa Mackey is also fine singer with lots of power and soul herself, her singing was top notch.

After finishing the setlist for 5/5/77 and announcing which show they just played, DSO played a couple more tunes, inviting the Heart of Gold members up on stage with them, and perfomed Bob Marley's "Stir it Up" and a fun "Brothers and Sisters" with both dueling "Donnas."

This was a fun night of music and the band does such justice to the material they play; at times Rob Eaton's mannerisms and strumming is eerily close to those of his idol Bob Weir and John Kadlecik seems to actually channel Jerry Garcia with his guitar leads. Not only do they play very well, but they also create the experience many Deadheads are missing and don't get with the solo projects or even the recent version of The Dead. Things came full circle when Bob Weir performed with DSO himself on April 13, 2002 at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco as well as appearances by other former Dead members Tom Constanten and Vince Welnick, and now Donna Jean.

If you are fan of the Grateful Dead and their legacy try to catch Dark Star Orchestra when they come high-stepping into your town.

Words & Photos: Susan J. Weiand
JamBase | San Francisco
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[Published on: 5/17/04]

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