The Grateful Dead is such majesty and completeness that when a great version of it comes along, the vibes come along too. Dark Star Orchestra has been recreating Grateful Dead sets for over 20 years now. On 7/5/2019, DSO performed their own tailored setlist to a beautiful evening at River Edge Park Aurora. There was a drop or two of rain but it only served to aid the dancing under a glowing quarter moon rising serenely above the Fox River.
In my eye-mind, what stands out the most is the families gathered for a picnic-like atmosphere while telling stories of these songs that DSO bo jangled from the stage beside the river. Well into the second set, most show-goers were perplexed as to what Grateful Dead show they could possibly be re-creating. Overheard in the crowd were guesses of the years in eras of the style they were forming. The bug spray fog filled the air above the lawn but that slowly gave way to a more familiar enticing cloud. The lawn is the perfect place at River Edge Park for hassle-free chillaxing.
The songs jumped from era to era but with a harmony that would not indicate anything unusual.
Ramble on Rose
My Brother Esau
Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues
Believe or Not
Lazy Lightning / Supplication
When I paint My Masterpiece
When they closed the first set with Shakedown Street, curiosities were piqued. That was a sure sign that this was a rare and unique find of a show. The band took a nice 30 - 40 minute set break and the sun dipped below the horizon. It was a hot time in the city of Aurora but it was alive with music. When they returned to stage, the setlist got even stranger. Whoever heard of a Help on the Way / Slipknot without Franklin’s Tower? We did. The golden road of devotion winded us deeper into the mystery.
Help on the Way / Slipknot
Tangled up in Blue
Drums / Space
Going Down the Road Feeling Bad
The air was hazy with humidity and not a breeze to be felt. The show had that state fair feeling to it. Beach balls were bouncing from tie-dye to sunglasses and sundresses. The faint skunk smell floating by slow as the river beside the park, Rob Eaton chatted with the crowd after they left it all on the stage for Tangled Up in Blue.
“Glad to see some of y’all come down from the pasture!” -Rob Eaton
There were smiles all around, and as if the band was reacting to the smiles abounding from the crowd, they launched into Estimated Prophet. In a church like sweatin’ somber mode He’s Gone burst forth into exhilaration when the crowd all shouted back at the stage, “NOTHING LEFT TO DO BUT SMILE SMILE SMILE!!”
Having just seen Dead & Co at Wrigley Field a few weeks earlier, the contrast compare of Drums in Space is worth mentioning. While DSO may not have the sonic rhythms that the rhythm devils do, DSO sure does have their trajectory set. It’s a shame that River Edge Park doesn’t have more advanced lighting systems to fully engage a number like this one. DSO’s two drummers, Rob Koritz and Dino English, had ambient fills and toms with a saw-like reverberation and thankfully, it didn’t go beyond 20 minutes. That seemed to clear the park of the casual show-goers.
When they came out of Space/ Drums, a solid crew of 450 or so peace-loving hippy freaks came bounding down from the lawn into the seats and a front couple of rows left for dancing space. It was that light at the end of the tunnel effect as the euphony of The Wheel sounded the gong to bring us all closer together.
A solid choice to end the show, Goin Down the Road Feeling Bad kept the groove humming along as the crowd gathered their belongings and headed on down the road. Promptly at 10:48 the band waved their goodbyes as Rob Barraco announced to the crowd that indeed they had created this setlist tonight. There was no show that they had recreated but in fact, they feel that the Grateful Dead would have played this set at some point had they still been going. Sounded good to us! They were anything but feeling bad as the band came back out for the encore. With a jovial spirit, they whipped into a solid Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 for an encore and the park cleared out, flushing into the Aurora city streets to carry on with more music all around downtown.