Dark Star Orchestra, Brooklyn Bowl, New York, NY- 5/14
Photo by James Martin
Dark Star Orchestra has seen many incarnations since 1997, with over sixteen former members and only one founder remaining. John Kadlecik went off to play with Further and bassist Kevin Rosen announced his departure in early May, leaving vocalist Lisa Mackey as the lone veteran. The band however, lacks for neither experience nor talent. With over 2000 shows under their belts DSO will surpass the amount of shows the Grateful Dead played themselves, and in a fraction of the time.
“Promised Land” opened, and introduced Skip Vangelas, DSO’s interim bassist. Mackey’s stage presence exuded comfortable authority throughout the night, and by the second song—a “Sugaree” you had to dance to—she was barefoot, arms extended, spinning in circles. Two songs in and it sounded like the seventies.
“Looks Like Rain,” complemented the epic “Mission in the Rain” from the previous night, and was a highlight, with rhythm guitarist Rob Eaton and Mackey’s vocals marrying perfectly. “Let it Grow” tugged at the heart, though “Might As Well” ended the first set on a carefree note.
The Dead crowd is generally an older demographic, but for the younger generation DSO was the way in. DSO deals in their own kind of improvisation, drawn from the era they’re replicating, but they wander less and tend towards precision. “St. Stephen” energized the room, and led to an especially jammed out “Not Fade Away,” making one appreciate the nuances DSO can deliver.
Jeff Mattson was firmly immersed and created an emotional shift during “Stella Blue,” though the tenor turned away from melancholia halfway and ended with an impressive outro. Mattison plays a fresh lead guitar but his skill ultimately gets reduced to the fact that he makes a damn good fake Jerry. The climax came during a funky “Dancing in the Streets” into “The Wheel”—remarkably poignant when played by a cover band.
“Scarlet Begonias” with no Fire means we’re most likely pre-1977. After the encore,” Johnny B. Goode,” DSO shared the Dead show: June 15, 1976 at the Beacon Theater. They encored with “How Sweet It Is,” branding the night their own.