Words by Adam Kaye

Dark Star Orchestra :: 04.07 & 04.08 :: la Zona Rosa :: Austin, TX

Last weekend, Dark Star Orchestra visited Austin's La Zona Rosa for two nights and created a space for a couple thousand people to honor the legacy of the Grateful Dead.

For the uninitiated, as the band's website states:
What Dark Star Orchestra does is recreate the Grateful Dead. Not with hippie wigs and fake beards but through the live music. They play the setlist song for song in the same arrangements used by the Dead members of that period... The date of the show to be recreated is kept secret right up till the performance. Oh, there are clues (the number and placement of microphones, the keyboard setup, a midi guitar) and the secret becomes part of a game.

Dark Star Orchestra by Susan J. Weiand
Some might balk at the idea, considering it not original enough, but an evening with Dark Star Orchestra is actually a lot of fun for a number of reasons. First of all, it's nice to see people making a living doing something they love. The players in this band care deeply about the mystique that is the Grateful Dead, and bringing this magic to others, if only for a few hours at a time, must feel like a noble cause or they wouldn't have been doing it for almost ten years now. They also happen to be extremely talented musicians, no matter whose songs they're playing. And for the audience members, at least those with the Dead coded in their DNA, it feels good to spend an evening surrounded by people with whom you share a common belief. It also doesn't hurt the entertainment value that Rob Eaton (guitar, vocals) looks and acts like Bobby and John Kadlecik's (lead guitar, vocals) singing and playing bear an eerie resemblance to Jerry's.

Friday night's show seemed to have the biggest buzz, particularly the second set. Audience members wondered whether the Dead agreed during their setbreak that the first set had been somewhat lackluster, prompting the string of big-hitters in the second set. It turned out to be a show from Seneca College in Toronto, Canada from 11/02/77, and the set list for the second set pretty much speaks for itself:

Samson, Ship Of Fools, Good Lovin', Sunrise, Scarlet > Fire, Estimated > St. Stephen > Truckin' > Around
Encore: Terrapin

Rob Eaton (DSO) by Susan J. Weiand
On Saturday night, the crowd was bigger, and the band seemed to hit their stride earlier than the night before. The "Hell in a Bucket" opener gave those paying attention the idea that the show was probably originally performed sometime in the '90s, and Dylan's "Queen Jane" a few songs later confirmed that belief. A highlight from the first set was the always-popular "Sugaree," during which the crowd was singing loudly and proudly. The second set ended strongly, from "Playin'" and "Uncle John's Band" all the way through "Watchtower," a touching "China Doll," and a rockin' "Lovelight." Even the extended "Drums," which often means "bathroom break" for the non-psychedelically-colored, kept the crowd engaged and entertained. And with a little extra time before the venue had to close, DSO treated the crowd to "Mr. Charlie" and the always-entertaining "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."

Keyboardist Rob Barraco deserves honorable mention for rocking out all weekend long. It makes such a difference to see that the musicians who you are watching are enjoying themselves, and if smiling from ear to ear and bouncing up and down on his bench are any indication, Barraco was thoroughly enjoying his time with the Orchestra. Though he's not the permanent keyboard player, his close relationship with the band seems secure.

DSO's tour is leading up a big night at Martyrs' in Chicago on Monday, April 24th. This date will mark the first anniversary since co-founder and original keyboard player Scott Larned's passing, and his life will be celebrated with a special night of jamming for all of Scott's friends and fellow musicians. Members of DSO, Umphrey's McGee, Mr. Blotto, Hack 'n Wheeze, Cornmeal, and many others will be in attendance.

April 24th will also mark the release of a very special benefit CD entitled Sandwich Man, which will feature Larned singing many of his favorite songs. The track list includes "Dear Mr. Fantasy," "Hey Pocky Way," "Gimme Some Lovin'," "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," and "Llama," and proceeds from the sale of the disc will go to the Georgianna Larned Port Education Fund to help pay for Scott's daughter's education.

Field House, Seneca College, Toronto, Canada - 11/02/77

Set I: Promised, TLEO, Me & My Uncle> Big River, Candyman, L. L. Rain, Ramble On, Lazy Lightning > Supplication, Might As Well
Set II: Samson, Ship Of Fools, Good Lovin', Sunrise, Scarlet > Fire, Estimated> St. Stephen > Truckin' > Around
Encore: Terrapin

Soldiers Field, Chicago, IL - 6/18/93

Set I: Hell in a Bucket, Sugaree, Walkin' Blues, Stagger Lee, Queen Jane, Row Jimmy, Music Never Stopped Set II: Box of Rain, Aiko Aiko, Playin' in the Band > Uncle John's Band > Drums > Space > Watchtower > China Doll > Lovelight
Encore: Liberty
DSO encore: Mr. Charlie, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

JamBase | Austin
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[Published on: 4/24/06]

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jerbear87 starstarstarstarstar Mon 4/24/2006 01:24PM
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Thank the sweet lords that these guys are around pumping out the Dead that I and others love so much. These guys are amazing. I closed my eyes at one of their show and felt like I was back at that sweet 90' summer tour. What a great feeling. Thanks DSO!

phhil starstarstarstarstar Mon 4/24/2006 05:09PM
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I love going to see phil and bobby, and always will, but these guys deliver a crucial bang for your buck. I'm a pretty po kat lately, so if faced with the decision of DSO for $15-20, compared to Phil or Bobby for $35-50, I have to choose DSO. This article hit the nail on the head. Long live DSO !!!

Alex.Anastas starstarstarstarstar Mon 4/24/2006 06:57PM
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We all miss Scott very much and are glad to know these guys are still doing what they do so well. Thanks DSO!

blueberrycaves starstarstarstar Mon 4/24/2006 07:06PM
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I caught the DSO show when they made their way through Minneapolis last weekend and it was a blast. I top my hat to you Dark Star. Keep up the good work!

larry starstarstarstarstar Mon 4/24/2006 08:50PM
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I love that first set from Soldiers Field.

nick Tue 4/25/2006 05:25AM
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if you have not seen them yet check them out and close your eyes it is eerie how much he sounds like jerry

yemface starstarstarstarstar Tue 4/25/2006 08:18AM
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Dark Star is a classy band doing an accurate & improvisational tribute to the band we all know and love.

Check them out, they're worth every penny.

Matis starstarstarstarstar Tue 4/25/2006 02:24PM
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dark star shows are nothing short of greatness. looking forward (crossin my fingers) for a 2 night run at the mishawaka ampitheatre this summer.

rockytop1 starstarstarstarstar Sat 4/29/2006 03:42AM
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I saw DSO last year in Dewey Beach, DE. I thought the music and the atmosphere were outstanding. Nothing like hearing some live Dead! Can`t wait to see them again.

peacebeing Wed 7/12/2006 05:57PM
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grtfulron::7/12/2006 8:45pm
I jumped on the "bus" in 79'and never looked back.After losing Jerry in 95' I had to close the book for a while. Im a wharf rat now and this beautiful music has taken on a whole new life. Reborn in the DSO. Thanks so much for keepin the VIBE alive. See you on the road "ONE SHOW AT A TIME"