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Dark Star Orchestra – More Than Just a Cover Band

photo(s) by Phil Emma- for the Grateful Web

It was a happenin' day in Princeton as deadheads filled the quaint town just as they have in the past. Tie dies filled the streets, fathers brought their sons to tailgate in the lot, and fans were getting carried out of bars before the show for a trip down memory lane. The Grateful Dead only played one time in Princeton in 1971, which made Dark Star Orchestra's visit that much sweeter. But instead of playing in a gym, DSO chose the beautiful McCarter Theatre as its venue. The ushers at the theatre deserve recognition because they allowed fans to dance in the aisles and indulge in activities usually frowned upon in this venue.

As many people know, DSO covers actual shows note for note like the Grateful Dead played them originally. Tonight it was a show that occurred almost exactly 27 years before. It was May 10, 1980 in Hartford, CT that was being celebrated tonight. They opened big with "New New Minglewood Blues," which got the crowd on their feet early. A little known fact about this song is that it is constantly mislabeled. Many people as a shortcut call it "Minglewood Blues" or "New Minglewood Blues." The reason why this is incorrect is because those are totally different songs already. Both songs were written by Noah Lewis and performed by different jug bands in the 1920's and 1930's. The lyrics have no similarities between them. Speaking of similarities, the next song was haunting because of the likeness of lead singer John Kadlecik's voice to Jerry's. "Peggy-O" was sung with perfect tone and inflection. Then it was Rob Eaton's turn to belt out a hot "Mexicali Blues > El Paso" run.

Next was the first of the Saturday songs. Robert Hunter's lyrics of "Althea" read, "You may be Saturday's child all grown moving with a pinch of grace," blended perfectly with the older crowd enjoying the nostalgia. Smokin' guitar riffs and loud applause came with "Passenger," the song that was originally written as a joke by Phil Lesh. He said that it's a take on the Fleetwood Mac song "Station Man," just sped up with a few different chord changes. The crowd tonight was on their feet clapping along until the calm Brent Mydland song sung by the great Rob Barraco "Far From Me," where everyone sat down to listen. After, Rob Eaton said, "We can't express how grateful we are to play in such a beautiful environment." He was right, springtime in Princeton is gorgeous, and as it drizzled lightly outside, DSO played "Lost Sailor > Saint of Circumstance" inside. The crowd got a little sleepy until Kadlecik's guitar solo in the set closer "Deal" breathed life back into the theatre, and the crowd was up and clapping in unison.

dsoThe second set opened with one of my favorite song runs "China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider." The rest of the show was pretty much played one song into another until close to the end. "Feel Like a Stranger" kept the crowd going strong.  "Comes a time when the blind man takes your hand says: don't you see?" The lyrics of "Comes a Time" are some of the most inspiring words ever written. This rendition gave it the justice it deserves. "Estimated Prophet" was performed with the same zeal and energy that the subject of the song would preach it with. Weir and Barlow wrote it about the crazy and high type of fan with an important message they felt had to be delivered to everyone. We've all seen them in the crowd.

"He's Gone" and "Uncle John's Band" gallantly took us into "Drums." Then, the fan friendly "Not Fade Away" had the crowd participating as usual. Finally, the best song of the night "Sugar Magnolia" closed the second set. DSO did a great job in the second set convincing the crowd that they were in 1980. I love to watch people's faces at DSO shows because one can always tell who has never seen them before. They all react with amazement and wonderment at the beauty of how well they play the part of the Grateful Dead.

The encores were "Alabama Getaway" and "One More Saturday Night" from the original show, which were performed very well. But, DSO had one surprise for the grateful crowd. They added the traditional classic "Don't Ease Me In" as a filler.

Overall, this show was a lot of fun, and I hope that DSO comes back to this venue because I think that it lends itself very well to their shows. The theatre as well as the sound was full and vibrant. Check out the band with their heavy tour schedule this summer and fall. It will truly be a fun adventure.