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.
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.
Dark Star Orchestra by Susan J. Weiand
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
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."
Rob Eaton (DSO) by Susan J. Weiand
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
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
DSO encore: Mr. Charlie, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
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