Review: Dark Star Orchestra Shines At Stage AE, 8/8

first_img(Thanks again to my good friend Cody Silay for all his help at the show. It is greatly appreciated.) Having never been privy to seeing the Grateful Dead live in concert, I’m only left with several alternatives. There’s nothing wrong with a Phil & Friends performance or an appearance by the Rhythm Devils, but it’s not quite in the same vein as the Dead, whether it be Weir’s jazzier takes on Dead tunes in RatDog or Lesh’s blending of musicians and song arrangements in Phil & Friends. For what some may call a “pure” approach to the Dead’s legacy, Dark Star Orchestra might be the most straight forward representation of the music being played today. The band revels in Grateful Dead lore and thrives on finding their own voice through the vehicle of the Dead’s well-documented catalog. This past Friday night DSO treated the Stage AE crowd in Pittsburgh, PA to a healthy dose of some classic Dead material, electing to play the San Francisco syndicate’s first set from the night of April 3, 1990 at the Omni in Atlanta, GA (this show will appear as a part of’s new Spring 1990 (The Other One) box set), followed by a set filled with selections of their own. Opening up with the powerful strums to “Shakedown Street,” the audience knew right away they would be in store for a real Friday throwdown. From the outset, the band was very focused, leaving little time for crowd interaction, only pausing to tune in between numbers. They came to take care of business, and business was good.After moving through a rousing “Hell in a Bucket” the band moved into the sultry tones of “Sugaree.” In my opinion, this is where lead guitarist Jeff Mattson shines most. He has a wonderful knack for channelling Jerry in these slow moving blues numbers, moving patiently and precisely, expending no more energy on notes than necessary. It is a thing of beauty.Following “Sugaree,” DSO called on keyboard player Rob Barraco’s number for Brent Mydland’s “We Can Run,” and he did not dissapoint. From the few times I have seen DSO play I have always been amazed at Barraco’s ability to change styles between the Dead’s Pigpen in the 60s and early 70s to Mydland in the 80s and early 90s. He is a true virtuoso.Moving towards the end of the first set, and having already figured out what show DSO was playing, I was really looking forward to hearing the band’s take on Chuck Berry‘s “Promised Land.” This version sizzled, with Rob Eaton doing his best Bobby impression. His manerisms and playing are eerily similar to Weir’s. With that, the first stanza ended on a high note, leaving the Stage AE crowd anticipating what would come next.Although we had been expecting the band to come out with an “Estimated Prophet” as the Dead did to open their second set on 4-3-90, DSO threw a curveball and launched into a beautiful rendition of “Terrapin Station”. It was around this time that the band and crowd became one, chanting in unison the classic lyrics, “INSPIRATION, MOVE ME BRIGHTLY!” It is in these euphoric moments where one gets a brief taste of the a Grateful Dead concert experience. Dark Star Orchestra is a great facilitator of these moments.The biggest highlight of the night though was the large sandwich of songs DSO threw out at the crowd second set, beginning with “Scarlet Begonias.” An instant mover and shaker, this “Scarlet” gave the good people of Pittsburgh a chance to put on their best dancing shoes and cut a rug. However, “Scarlet” did not segue into it’s usual pairing of “Fire On The Mountain,” but rather made a departure into “Going Down The Road Feeling Bad,” a punchy version that once again conjoined band and audience to one another.From there the band morphed their set into a sleek “Drums > Space” section feauturing drummers/percussionists, Rob Koritz and Dino English, that kept most of the crowd in a trance. I have come to really enjoy DSO’s “Drums > Space” sections. They’re more precise and fluid than you might encounter when listening to a random Dead show, and at times have more direction which makes them a little more listenable, per se.After rounding out “Space,” DSO launched into a great home stretch of songs, playing a sequence of “Uncle John’s Band”, a cover of Traffic‘s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” that had the crowd dangling in the band’s palm, and finishing up with “Comes A Time > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider.” The “China Cat > Rider” combo is always a crowd favorite and can fit anywhere into a set, as is evident by the placement on this particular night. So what else was left to do?Dark Star decided to play what I would consider one of the most fitting encore/closing songs in the Grateful Dead’s repetoire, “Brokedown Palace.” It’s slow tempo and lyrical sentiments are an appropriate note to end any show on.Here are the full set list details, via Dark Star Orchestra’s website: Set One: Shakedown Street ; Hell In The Bucket > Sugaree ; We Can Run ; When I Paint My Masterpiece ; Row Jimmy ; Picasso Moon > Tennessee Jed > The Promised Land Set Two: Terrapin Station > Blow Away ; Scarlet Begonias > Going Down The Road Feeling Bad > drums > space > Uncle John’s Band > Dear Mr. Fantasy > Comes A Time > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider Encore: Brokedown Palacelast_img

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