Last week I had the honor of seeing one of my very favorite bands in my new home of Portland Oregon. Dark Star Orchestra, one of the longest running Grateful Dead cover bands, in fact on their 20th year of touring, graced the beautiful West coast with a lovely winter tour. One of the stops was the Roseland Theater in Portland. I have so much to say about the music, it was on point as always, Dark Star almost never disappoints, but for me, the venue left a bit to be desired.
Portland is an amazingly vibrant city. The nightlife is unlike any other place I've been. Happy hour specials at every corner, delicious food for any diets, and a thriving, bustling art community. So much music comes to the city, and the population is so young and lively, public transportation is on point, Portland is slowly becoming one of my favorite big cities. Not every place you go will be a winner, but you'll surely find your vibe there. The Roseland Theater was not my ideal venue to see Dark Star though. The theater didn’t seem particulary well-kept, and the sound seemed rough at best, but for the venerable DSO, it was one more sold-out Saturday night. The theater was packed rim to rim; hippies were coming out of the walls! It was a rough go down in the pit area, but if you made it to the upper balcony, the view and sound were much better.
This was an entertaining DSO show; they recreated the Grateful Dead show from July 1st,1985 at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Maryland, from a fondly remembered summer tour. 1985 was a strong year for the band. They were celebrating 20 years since the Warlocks formed, and it's quite fitting to see DSO play this show as they are also celebrating 20+ years of touring. The set opens with a downtempo 'Dancing in the Streets.' Every time I hear this song as an opener I'm surprised, it always seems like a second set kind of song, but the slower tempo helped ease us into the set and was followed by 'Dupree's Diamond Blues,' which was a bit down tempo as well. The first set was a sort of mellow string of songs that showed off the band's artful composing and lyrics. It is a unique line up for the first set including 'Walkin’ Blues,' 'Jack-A-Roe,' and 'Stagger Lee.' They kicked it up to close the set with a song that was relatively new to the Dead at the time, 'Keep Your Day Job.'
The second set had such a different feel from the first; there was so much more energy! Maybe it was because I had made it out of the pit into the beautiful view and elbow room of the balcony, but the second set was terrific! The light show looked brighter, and the sound mix was much improved just as the band opened with a crowd-pleasing 'Scarlet Begonias.' I could see the floor coming to life, friends hugging friends, singing along, laughing together. DSO not only matches the sets of the Grateful Dead but also the loving family atmosphere. Even in a crowd as thick as a sold-out Saturday night show, everyone is trading grins and hugs. One of the highlights of set two had to be the Drums>Space, a second set staple where the band slowly breaks off until the only members left are the two drummers, Dino English and Rob Koritz. These two guys have to be some of the best drummers in the scene; their drum set up on stage alone is impressive. My very favorite moment of the second set had to be the closing with 'Good Lovin.' Standing on the rail off the balcony I could just see the floor come to life with every type of groove and embrace as the crow jostled in a harmonic back and forth with the lyrics we love driving the train. What a good way to end a set where the energy had been building and building. They closed the set with an 'It's All Over Now, Baby Blue,' and we all wandered off into the drizzly Portland winter to get weird in one of the weirdest cities in the USA.