Dark Star Orchestra :: 05.27.12 :: Tarrytown Music Hall :: Tarrytown, NY
DSO often recreates specific shows by following the setlist song by song. However, they also create setlists of their own choosing which can significantly vary from what the Dead would do. Personally, I don’t know why they don’t always recreate a show; it affords Deadheads the opportunity to relive a piece of history, perhaps a show one had personally seen, and one can become immersed in the statistical and nostalgic part of GD history. When one has seen over 100 Dead shows, collected endless bootlegs or memorized parts of setlists from DeadBase, they are afforded the luxury of knowing the structure of a performance. One knows certain songs open or close a set or which ones segue best. Perhaps the inclusion of an original set only serves to further fuel the intrigue.
Although the band performs Grateful Dead songs, they do not seek to replicate particular jams within them. Eaton explained, “The Dead provide a musical framework. We use that as a structure to paint our own pictures inside of it.” This grouping of lifelong Deadheads understand the band, structure, scene and music, but most importantly how this particular genre works and why it is important to respect what the Grateful Dead’s music inherently is at the core. Mattson continued, “Sometimes we listen to the particular show we are covering to understand the arrangement or style of performance from a particular era, but the musical adventure is up to us from there. That is what the Grateful Dead is all about – improvisation.”
I was happy for some of my friends in attendance who were not such grizzled veterans as the opening chords for the familiar and crowd pleasing “Uncle John’s Band” bounced off the fine acoustic walls of the Music Hall. Clearly the fans had awaited a true sing-a-long and it had been offered. “Lost Sailor > Saint of Circumstance” was a treat; a delectable duo that never received its due considering its endless juxtaposition to the other usual second set openers like “Scarlet > Fire” or “China > Rider”. Eaton delivered the line “I’m gonna go for it, it for sure” with the enthusiasm of 80s Weir. Add a ponytail and short shorts to his already youthful appearance and one could imagine they were witnessing Bobby circa ’89. Eaton learned to play the rhythm guitar after hearing Weir at age 12, but don’t call him “Fake Bobby.” “It’s insulting,” Eaton uttered matter-of-factly, without the need for a moment to qualify his response. Clearly, he admires Weir, but he is his own man, making music in his own way. Mattson, laid back and taking time between questions, offered, “I don’t mind it. To be part of that rare conversation with Garcia is flattering.”
Many claim that the greatest cover band playing today is Furthur, which is helmed by Grateful Dead veterans Bob Weir and Phil Lesh. However, regardless of how well they jam on any given night, there are glaring limitations. Mr. Lesh still can drop a bomb like its San Bernadino ‘77, but there is a reason the Grateful Dead ignored performing most of his songs live. Other than “Box of Rain,” his best cuts “Unbroken Chain” and “Pride of Cucamonga” were ignored for decades, if played at all, and the songs he introduced near the end were not accepted by fans. For years, I zealously joined the legion of fans chanting, “We want Phil!” but that was an aberration in order to taste a different voice. Hearing Jerry’s popular classic “Eyes of the World” and others currently sung by Phil is simply a diet my soul finds difficulty digesting. With the younger, fresher and crisper vocals provided by Mattson, he simply provides an auditory experience that can’t be rivaled. Someday DSO may be set to play another sold-out show at Best Buy Theatre as Furthur is set for the same down the street at MSG. I know where I would be – without even factoring in the price gouge by scalpers.
With hundreds of Grateful Dead cover bands, there is a reason why DSO has been so immensely popular and shows no signs of losing momentum – they are really good. With deference to John Kadlecik, and honorable mention to other renowned players of Jerry Garcia’s music including Mike Mizwinski and Dave Hebert, Mattson is arguably the greatest pure lead guitarist in the current Grateful Dead related musical family. DSO still may have more people to convince that they are more than emulators of another defunct musical outfit. However, for those of us who have seen them, they are professional musicians who do not mimic but rather remain much more of a polished act than even their status in my mind as “The Greatest Cover Band Ever” may suggest. Eaton summed up the entire experience rather succinctly: “Music is all about emotion.” Thus, just like when the Grateful Dead “followed” me for years, I’ll let DSO “follow” me for a while, because I enjoy the emotion their experience evokes – happiness.
Set I: Women are Smarter, Cold Rain and Snow, Mama Tried>Big River, Loose Lucy, Greatest Story, Visions of Johanna, Box of Rain, New Speedway Boogie, Let it Grow
Set II: Uncle John’s Band>Lost Sailor>Saint>Foolish Heart> Truckin’>Drums>Space>Why Don’t We Do It in the Road> The Wheel>If I Had the World To Give>Uncle John’s>Good Lovin’
JamBase | Hell In A Bucket
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