|Dark Star Orchestra - 11/08/2009: Strand Capital Performing Arts Theater, York, PA
Few would argue that listening to decades-old recordings of the Grateful Dead’s Tuesday, May 9, 1978 show at the Onondaga County War Memorial in Syracuse, New York, is a viable substitute for having attended the actual concert. That being said, Dead Heads and music fans of all ages got a rare chance to catch an almost first-hand glimpse of the original performance when the Dark Star Orchestra [DSO] took to the stage at York, Pennsylvania’s Strand Capital Performing Arts Theater on Sunday, November 8, 2009.
The DSO possesses an uncanny and unparalleled ability to step into the historical and musical contexts of the Grateful Dead shows they recreate, and this night proved no exception.
The current incarnation of the DSO, featuring founder-members Lisa Mackey [vocals] and Kevin Rosen [bass guitar], along with John Kadlecik [lead guitar, vocals], Rob Eaton [rhythm guitar, vocals], Rob Barraco [keyboards, vocals], Dino English [drums], and Rob Koritz [drums], took to the stage and immediately lit into the familiar chord progression of "Franklin’s Tower." Although the evening’s journey was just beginning, the crowd was already whipped into a proverbial frenzy. The band then proceeded to meander through the Dead’s original set list which featured such beloved classics as "Row Jimmy," "Candyman," "Ship of Fools," and "Black Peter."
A short list of the many highlight of the evening would have to include Rob Eaton and Lisa Mackey’s spirited take on "Samson & Delilah," and John Kadlecik’s eerily-Jerry Garcia-esque vocals and lead guitar-playing on a soulful arrangement of American Beauty’s "Friend of the Devil." The DSO performed a particularly inspired rendition of "Drums," courtesy of English and Koritz, which trailed off into a dynamic run-through of Buddy Holly’s "Not Fade Away." At times, it was easy (and forgivable) to forget that the DSO is a Grateful Dead tribute band, as they inhabited the Dead originals, covers, and dated arrangements like… well, only the Grateful Dead could!
After replicating the encore of the original Grateful Dead show with a performance of Warren Zevon’s "Werewolves of London," John Kadlecik indicated that the band still had a little time left before they would be "kicked off the stage." They launched into Dorothy Love Coates "Strange Man," a gospel number performed on several occasion over the years by both the Jerry Garcia Band and various Donna Godshaux-Mackay projects. Lisa Mackey’s stellar lead vocals nearly brought the house down. Finally, the DSO bid the crowd goodnight with Smokey Robinson’s "I Second That Emotion," featuring nearly everyone in the audience joining in on vocals.
While the Grateful Dead remain a revered and irreplaceable entity that has spawned countless offshoots and imitators to varying degrees of quality and success, the Dark Star Orchestra, unlike any other Dead-related band, takes fans on a bona fide "long, strange trip" through "space" and time to approximate each and every era of the Grateful Dead experience in its full splendor and glory. And that, my friends, is a how an autumn evening in November of 2009, can melt into the recesses of a warm spring night in 1978.