On Oct. 4, 2016, I had the opportunity to catch Dark Star Orchestra in concert at the Lafayette Theater in Lafayette, IN. The experience was interesting, to say the very least.
This was my first time seeing DSO. I've listened to some of their stuff and always found them solid if not spectacular. And, as I witnessed them this evening, I found that to be the general case. They are a solid Grateful Dead Tribute Band - probably the best one. They work hard to give people the "Grateful Dead Experience" and do so by sticking pretty closely to the Grateful Dead's modus operandi. And this is fine, it works, it is great. They provide a very "Dead" experience.
What they do not do is try to reinvent the wheel. And this works fine for them and their show. It means that people really enjoy the experience and are immersed in a Grateful Dead-esque musical experience. People love it and there was a lot of enjoyment of the music this night in Lafayette.
If you are not familiar, Dark Star Orchestra uses an old setlist of the Grateful Dead. They perform the setlist of a previous Dead show. This night they chose the setlist from March 20, 1981 from the Rainbow Theatre in London, England.
The first set was a little mixed for my taste. The set started strong with a very good rendition of "Feels Like a Stranger." However, the guys then brought the energy quite low through the triplet of "Friend of the Devil," "CC Rider," and "Althea." The songs were done well, but there wasn't a lot of energy to them. "Mexicali Blues" followed and brought some spark back to the set. I thought when they launched into "Loser" that the set would lose its energy. But, throughout "Loser" DSO let go a little bit and really start to let loose. There was a great guitar solo that ended a tad too quickly for my taste, but it was a solid rendition. This gave "New Minglewood Blues" a really great energy and the guys let go here. They used a lot of their tools to really "play" with this song. "Candyman" and "Looks Like Rain" brought the energy back down, even though both were played well. It was the "Deal" that ended the first set, though, that was probably the highlight of the night for me. The energy that wasn't there at times during the first set was all let out here as the guys really were able to improv and do some great things. I was afraid that it would be a more melancholy rendition, but the guys brought the energy and went after this one. It ended the first set on an extremely high note and set the tone for the beginning of the second set.
The second set began with fan favorite couplet of "Scarlet Begonias">"Fire on the Mountain." And the guys did not just do these two justice, but seamlessly played them both. Jeff Mattson, the lead guitarist for DSO, has the "Jerry Garcia" playing style down and did a great job on two songs where Garcia's style was incredibly prominent. Next came "Lost Sailor">"Saint of Circumstance." Again, the guys did the songs justice and kept the energy up, even in "Lost Sailor," a song that can bog down a set. "He's Gone" came next and this one had the whole crowd singing along, swaying to the music. "Drums">"Space" was next up in the second set and, was a tad strange. The drummers did the best they could, but it just doesn't sound the same without the whole repertoire of drums that Bill and Mickey use. "Space" gave way to "Truckin'" and this was a lot of fun. People were dancing in the aisles and having a great time. "Wharf Rat" came next and was played well, although it brings the energy down from a song like "Truckin'." However, the set ended with the Chuck Berry couplet of "Round and Round">"Johnny B. Goode." These two songs were played to their max, with solos and vocals taking center stage to create a great finale to the second set. The boys came back and ended with an encore of "U.S. Blues" which kept the place rocking. And people took their joy and energy out into the streets of Lafayette to continue the good vibes.
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