There are a lot of cover bands around and a lot of those are Grateful Dead cover bands. You've seen them, they're good. Most include the music of Jerry Garcia, Bobby Weir et al with other cover songs and some originals mixed in. DSO is a different breed of "Dead" band. What Dark Star Orchestra does is recreate the Grateful Dead. Not with hippie wigs and fake beards but through the live music. They play the setlist song for song in the same arrangements used by the Dead members of that period. When you're at a DSO show you may really be in the Providence Civic Center back in May of '81. Or you could even be at the 1973 Denver Coliseum show listening to Weather Report Suite. Who knows?
Actually no one does and that's part of the trip. The date of the show to be recreated is kept secret right up till the performance. Oh, there are clues (the number and placement of microphones, the keyboard setup, a midi guitar) and the secret becomes part of a game. Usually the audience in front starts throwing out guesses toward the end of the first set. The wiser observer waits for the start of the second set to venture a showdate. Sometimes a curious look comes over the faces of the audience as they realize, "Hey! I was at this show!" followed by a smile as they realize...they're at the show again! Remember: This is an exhibition, not a competition. So please....no wagering! The original show date, for those who are DEADBASE-impaired, is announced at the end of the night usually followed by an extended encore of the band's choosing.
Even the press has caught on to what they're trying to do. Rolling Stone did a feature piece on the band in its June 20th, 2002 issue and USA Today says DSO is "channeling the Dead." Relix Magazine also did an in-depth feature article on the band in their Spring 2000 issue (Vol. 27 No. 2) and the Washington Post declared them "the hottest Grateful Dead tribute act going" but what they do is not just a tribute to the Grateful Dead but a testament to the enormous number of unique setlists they performed in their long career. Dark Star Orchestra takes the framework of the original setlists and sees where it can take them.