Dark Star Orchestra, Marquee Theatre, Tempe, AZ 10/13
Ruminations on a damn good bandGD replicants or otherwise
- Rob Eaton on rhythm guitar, vocals and Weir, forgetting the lyrics on “Truckin’”
It has been over two years since the passing of Dark Star Orchestra keyboardist Scott Larned but the band continues their fine run of recreated Grateful Dead shows. Rob Barraco is on board behind the keys and he brings with him a long and storied history, including stints with the Dead in the early 2000s and a passage with Phil Lesh & Friends.
At the Marquee, DSO chose to interpret an interesting show from a major transitional period in the Grateful Dead’s 30-year careerFebruary 9, 1979 at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas. The original show was just three dates before the departure of keyboardist Keith Godchaux and his wife, vocalist Donna Godchaux and shortly thereafter, the band would head in yet another direction as Brent Mydland would enter the fold on keyboards and vocals and give the band quite a kick in the collective ass over the next eleven years before his own untimely passing.
And I used the word “recreated” in the initial paragraph and that is really a misnomer. DSO isn’t really duplicating anything other than a setlist, some selective detailsmore on that laterand the unique GD passion. It is that latter trait that is DSO at their best as the show kicked into an unusually tight and energetic first set. “Promised Land” initiated the high-flying tone before “Candyman” delivered the good vibes which sank into a powerhouse triplet of “Cassady,” “Tennessee Jed,” and “El Paso,” before lead guitarist John Kadlecik sank his teeth into a very tasty “Jack-a-Roe.” The set eased down another notch into “Looks Like Rain,” which escalated into an exclamation point with a rotating-hook jam. “Stagger Lee” lurched out of the gates before the rarenot so much for the late 70s timeframe“Passenger” continued the forward momentum.
This excellent display of controlled tension and energy was merely a prelude as DSO closed the set with an outstanding version of “China Cat>I Know You Rider” that had the audience bouncing around like mad, stringless puppets. At this point, I flagged the show as somewhere between 1979-1981 but didn’t care to guess too much as the band, audience and writer were having too much fun. I’d check my old and trusted DeadBase for the exact date when I got home and it took me less than two minutes to find the show so time may wash away quite a lot but it doesn’t erase a Deadhead’s OCD.
The second set was a bit subdued with strange first-set type song selections which were not so out of place, again, during that transitional late 70s milieu. DSO plunged forward through a competent rendition of “Not Fade Away (opening a set?)>I Need A Miracle (buzz kill)>Bertha (a bump up)>Good Lovin’ (so so),” which lead to the Donna Jean selection “From the Heart of Me,” sung with fine grace and warmth by Lisa Mackey.
“He’s Gone” sank the set back down into a moody trance area but led to an absolutely sublime jam, which circulated from the stage and out through the crowd. A potent “Drums” sequence followed with minimal (if any) “Space” and the band charged back into the set and raised the bar rather high. “Truckin’” was a hard driving version that included Rob Eaton flubbing the lyrics ala Bob Weir and it was a very strange trip, indeed, to see such duplication, albeit simulated for a period of fun. I almost saw my suspension of disbelief falter during this moment as I looked behind the curtainwas this Weir in the flesh? An imposter? Rob Eaton? Was it the Wizard, himselfthe Oz dude? Anywaythose things float through your mind when Eaton as Weir flubs “Truckin’.”
“Comes A Time” followed with yet another slow, patient jam that was a peak moment of the evening and a reminder of how good DSO can be when it steps away from the setlist, the jams that follow selected songs and still manages to find their own niche, their own little corner of heaven to share. The original “Comes A Time” jam on 2/9/79and the post-“He’s Gone” jam, for that matterwere also highlights back on the original date as played by the Dead. However, DSO was able to offer their own voice and made the music come alive with a modern sound and I was most impressed.
“Around and Around” closed the show as the prerequisite high energy selection but the encored “Shakedown Street” was the real barrelhouse ass kicker as the band left the stage and the show with a reminder that one doesn’t just go to get a Grateful Dead fix. One goes to hear that sweet, long note that doesn’t want to fade away anytime soon.