Dark Star Orchestra, Buskirk Chumley Theater, Bloomington, IN – 2/6
Ben Franklin once wrote that there are two certainties in life: death and taxes. Similarly I know, for certain, that I will never hear Jerry Garcia sing “Ripple” live. I will never again hear the Grateful Dead play a mind blowing improvisational journey from “China Cat Sunflower” to “I Know You Rider.” For those of us who opened our minds and our hearts to the miracle that was live Grateful Dead, we have, to our great fortune, the Dark Star Orchestra to help fill that void.
The Dark Star Orchestra formed in 1997, as a group of talented young musicians from Chicago, based on the concept of performing complete Grateful Dead shows from the beloved act’s long touring history. The group created a buzz almost immediately and has been touring on that basic concept since. As their fanbase continues to grow they have become a mainstay on the jamband circuit as well as playing intimate shows in small venues around the country.
I was a little disappointed when I read that the DSO was going to do an acoustic set at the historic Buskirk Chumley Theater in Bloomington, Indiana. I am stupid. As the theater filled with old hippies, children and grandchildren of old hippies, Rob Eaton, who plays the role of Bob Weir, invited everyone to fill in the standing room at the front of the stage. Creating an atmosphere of a living room jam, the band started with “Dire Wolf” immediately followed by “The Monkey and the Engineer” into “Operator.” My disappointment was ill-founded. The way vocalist Lisa Mackey, laid into “You Ain’t Woman Enough” would’ve made Loretta Lynn proud. In the second set she really stretched on Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom” surprising herself as well as astonishing the audience as she held on for the last note.
Dino English and Rob Koritz played Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart without missing a beat. Kevin Rosen offered a distinctive and fluid bass derived from a devotion to the Grateful Dead and their music. On keyboards and vocals, Rob Barraco, provided rich melodies on a full Hammond B 3 organ. Jeff Matson performed Garcia’s role with particular zest on “Cassidy,” “Box of Rain” and “Deep Elem Blues.” His mastery of the fretboard was always crisp and bright- at times it proved overwhelming. The ensemble also treated their audience to renditions of “The Thrill is Gone,” “Wake Up Little Suzie,” “Rubin and Cerise” and “Black Throated Wind.”
Attending DSO concerts in the past, I have always enjoyed the way their gear is set up to reflect a sound that is correct to the period. I have enjoyed the fact that during those shows my expectations became expectations of Garcia and Mickey Hart and the other members of the Grateful Dead. This acoustic set, which DSO does just three or four times a year, was not what I expected but at the end, I was thrilled.