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Dark Star Orchestra, Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco- 10/22

There’s always a special electricity in the air when Dark Star Orchestra plays at the legendary Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. It’s as if the history of this place, including the numerous groundbreaking performances by the Grateful Dead and the dedication of Bill Graham’s first venue, catapult this band to another inspired level of playing. October 22 was no different for DSO as they played a fundraiser for the Rex Foundation.

On my way to the show, I wasn’t expecting the venue to be that crowded because it was also the second night of the highly anticipated Gov’t Mule/moe. co-headlining tour not too far away at the Warfield. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised when I went to retrieve my tickets at will call and the woman behind the window put up a sold out’ sign just as I approached her. A sold-out show always adds to the excitement of an evening.

I got into the venue and the first thing I did was go check out the stage to see if I could get an idea of the type of show I was in for. Excellent news: two drum kits, a saxophone set-up, and an acoustic guitar. I couldn’t stand waiting around on the dance floor, so my friends and I walked around the Fillmore and looked at the hundreds of photographs and posters hanging on the walls. Just getting lost looking at all this stuff is a joy in and of itself. The pictures and posters inside the Fillmore are a virtual history of rock n roll since 1966. We climbed the stairs and admired the giant shrine to Jerry Garcia on the wall, as if he’ll forever be watching over the Fillmore.

While we waited for DSO, we spent some time in the Poster Room upstairs. Dog Beaver was entertaining the crowd with some spacey tunes. They were an interesting band with three guitarists, one of whom was sitting in the audience and chatting it up with a lady friend in between guitar licks.

Around 9 pm, we headed to the dance floor. I always find it amazing at how many familiar faces I see at concerts. My life happens to run parallel with these random people at concerts for a few short hours, and then we go on our way only to see each other at some other venue at some other time in the future. Returning to the show, we found some prime real estate pretty close to the stage.

The band took the stage promptly at the designated show time. It was a special treat to see that Martin Fierro would be tootin’ the sax for the evening and Rob Barraco was on keys. While the guys were tuning, Lisa Mackey was beaming with excitement. She knew that something special was about to happen. Right before they began, my friend boldly predicted that they’d open with Shakedown Street’ and what do ya’ know, they did! They busted out a 15 minute + Shakedown’ to open that was sincerely funkified, a theme that was carried out through the whole evening. This was such a strong opener and it invigorated the crowd with some high energy dancing. The fun atmosphere of DSO shows allows everyone in the crowd to leave all their worries at the door and dance the night away.

Certainly a highlight of the first set was an excellent version of Harder They Come.’ Every person on stage was just letting it all out on this one and it culminated in a truly amazing jam and conclusion, after which John Kadlecik gave Rob Barraco a grin of approval. Visions of Johanna’ featured a soulful sax solo by Fierro that just seemed to effortlessly ribbon through the air and enticed us all to dance (which was somewhat ironic as Fierro would stand completely stone still).

Someone seemed to have turned up the volume of Kevin Rosen’s bass and it shook the whole house throughout the evening. His heavy bass lines provided something for us to hold on to throughout an evening and he really rattled our minds for a Beat It On Down The Line’ that got the dance floor bouncin’. Rob Eaton picked up the acoustic guitar for Weather Report Suite Prelude’ that segued into a Touch of Grey’ set closer that had everyone singing the anthem that keeps me going. It seemed as if in that moment everything was gonna be alright.

The second set opened with a tight, fast-paced King Solomon’s Marbles’ that was very impressive. It transitioned nicely into the powerful rocker of Feel Like A Stranger’ that had great depth in its sound. Barraco was grooving on his keys so hard during this one and at the end let out a huge sigh. Dino English and Rob Koritz on drums were able to add a personality to their drumming while at the same time giving the songs the power of double drums when needed.

Crazy Fingers’ was highlighted by three build-ups from Fierro that kept the intensity high. This segued into an Estimated Prophet’ which went into a free form mess that became an especially spooky and mysterious Space>Drums’ (possibly hinting at Halloween around the corner). Dino and Rob looked like mad scientists behind their kits for Drums’ and they were really experimenting with the sounds they can produce. Standing on the Moon’ became a beautiful serenade to us all but I couldn’t help thinking of the superb Hornsby/Anastasio version from the Jerry Tribute about a month ago. The set concluded with Throwing Stones>Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad’ that had everyone singing as if it was all that mattered.

In the words of Barraco as he returned to stage for the encore, “That was not the end, far from it!” After some kind words, the band started their excellent two-song encore with an entertaining Second That Emotion.’ followed by a perfect closer, the completely unexpected Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.’ This one featured John on vocals, who had the ideal voice for it, as if it was from a dream.

For the entire evening, Rob Barraco was really groovin’ on the keys. His playing was tight and funky, he had some fiery solos and was dancin’ in his seat. Hopefully he’ll return to join the band in the future. Also of special note was Lisa Mackey’s performance on vocals. I’m always pleased with what she adds to the show and her onstage dancing gets everyone in the crowd to boogie on down to the music.

DSO held nothing back on their final night of about a week in the Bay area. They performed an original setlist that was met with raucous approval. Those in attendance were treated to a number of relative rarities that were played to perfection. The Fillmore Auditorium was a wonderful setting with a friendly staff and a history that makes the walls come alive and puts a little extra energy in the band. DSO has provided yet another inspired performance in the city by the Bay.

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