Monday, June 6, 2016

Dark Star Orchestra 2016-06-01 - The Wilbur Theatre - Boston, MA

     Next in the line of concerts I had last week was Dark Star Orchestra at the Wilbur Theatre.  For those of you who don't know, DSO is the premier Dead cover band; at this point they've done more shows than the Dead actually played!  Their whole trip is to recreate the setlist of an actual Dead show, and to keep the song arrangements and equipment as era-accurate as possible.  While some Dead purists may scoff at this as mere recreation and unoriginal, I challenge any of them to play a 30-miunte "Dark Star" without having an original thought of their own.  The truth is, everyone in the band is an excellent musician who loves the Dead and their music, and what could possibly be wrong with that??

     My parents and I met up around the corner from the theatre at a place called Jacob Wirth's, that's probably historic or something.  All I really know is that they have a good beer selection, and we go there any time we see a show in the Theatre District, including Furthur and previous DSO shows.  After dinner we got in line to get in, and waited with some people who had been to DSO's Jubilee, which is a mini-festival they have in Ohio every year.  This year's lineup also featured Hot Tuna, and we just so happened to see Jorma Kaukonen the night after DSO!  Small world....

     Anyway, we waited in line until they let us in, and we got right up to the stage again!  We were right between two of the three Robs, Rob Eaton and Rob Barraco on the right side of the stage.  The Wilbur is a nice old theatre, but some things about it are really strange: It has a club in the basement that plays music that is the furthest from the Dead you can get; there is no smoking area, and they only let people out front to smoke during intermission for what feels like five minutes; the floor is sectioned off into fenced-in sections for some reason.  We ignored all of that and got busy examining the stage set-up.  There were two drum sets, and only a gong for auxiliary percussion (that we could see).  There was also only an organ set up for Barraco, as opposed to a multi-keyboard situation.  The final clue was that there was no mic set up for Lisa to sing, so we figured that this must be a 60's or 1970 show; and we were right!  The lights went down, the band came on, and even though we didn't realize it yet, we were transported back to 1969-12-30, which just so happened to also be a Boston show!

First Set
  • Good Lovin' > Drums > Good Lovin'
    • Barraco didn't do much of the Pig Pen rapping/raving, but that just meant the rest of the band could jam - hard.
    • Cool surprise to get a drums break in the very first song, and it's only the first of this set!
  • Mama Tried
    • I woke up this morning with this song in my head, so that's fun!
  • New Speedway Boogie
    • This and the next two songs were excellent.  Not only was the band totally clicking at this point, but they also nailed the early arrangements.
    • The harmonies on this weren't great, which is totally era-accurate!
  • Casey Jones
    • Better harmonies, pretty straight-forward performance.
  • Black Peter
    • A huge highlight of the show!
    • The solo just stayed around one chord, like it would in this period, and went on and on for a feverish eternity.
  • Me & My Uncle
    • Again, straightforward but very good.
  • Midnight Hour
    • We thought for sure this would be the encore, but we were very wrong.
    • Barraco had some good Pig Pen-esque rapping on this one.  In the past he sometimes has an actual transcript of what Pig really said, but I think this one was all free-form.
  • Cumberland Blues
    • Like the rest of the Workingman's Dead material, this one actually felt like it was a new song they were still perfecting.
  • That's It for The Other One >
    • I lost it again folks.  I'm sorry, but I just can't hear the first notes of "Cryptical" without totally losing it.
      • You know what, actually??  I'm not sorry!
    • Second drum break of the night, this one so long that the rest of the band left the stage!  It was at this point we started thinking maybe this was going to be one giant set, not two separate ones.
    • Skip nailed the Phil intro to "The Other One" like we knew he would, and the song just unfurled from there.  A classic late-'69 version that stayed mostly with the theme, but was starting to stretch out into what used to be exclusively "Dark Star" territory.
    • The "Cryptical Reprise" was a little short, but it was really cool to see someone actually doing Jerry's ascending licks from that outro jam.  Yes, it's a little cheesy to see someone copy a lead almost exactly, but it seemed pretty genuine in the moment.
  • Cosmic Charlie
    • A great set closer.
    • I hadn't realized how different Phil's version of this song has been lately from the original arrangement.
     At the setbreak I looked up the songs we had heard so far, and found the show!  I hid the second set with my hand though so we wouldn't have anything spoiled.

Second Set
  • Uncle John's Band
    • Like the others, this "early-version" of the song was spot-on.  The jam in the middle of the lyrics was longer and felt a little meatier than it would in later years, but the more psychedelic jam in 7/4 was much shorter and simpler.
  • Mason's Children
    • They had brought out music stands for the vocalists during the setbreak, and I correctly accused the band of playing this when they came back on stage.  None of them admitted to it, but I knew I was right.
    • Unfortunately a slight low point for the night.  The jams were great and hit some high points, but those lyrics and harmonies seem to screw everyone up but Phil...
  • China Cat Sunflower >
  • I Know You Rider
    • Everyone knows that the '73-'74 arrangement is the best this pairing got, but it was cool to see a simpler version.
    • The "China Cat" solo especially had more of the sixties, raw-psychedelic feel to it than the more refined, space cruiser versions from the 70's.
  • Dark Star >
    • "DARK STAR!"
    • And what a great one too!  We had seen them do a "Europe '72 'Dark Star'" at the Wilbur before, so we knew that they understood the forces at work.  And I mean, come on: "Dark Star" is in their fucking name!
    • They found themselves at the vocals after drifting around a few corners in the nebula, nailed those, and then went into some HEAVY FEEDBACK.  Skip looked like he was humping his amp, but he didn't care, he was making noise!
    • They resurfaced into the "Feelin' Groovy Jam," and finished up the lyrics.  We all thought we knew what was coming next, but...
  • Alligator >
    • Surprise!
    • Very different from the Furthur version I saw on 11/11/11, but much more traditional...or whatever that means for this song.
    • Everyone loves "Alligator," and there are a lot of good reasons for that.  Not least of all the fact that you get you yell "ALLIGATORRRRRR!!!!"
  • Drums >
    • More drums!!  See, you can still have three compelling drum solos in one show without lugging twenty tons of exotic drums and electronic doo-da's.
  • The Eleven >
    • Another surprise!
    • Incredible stuff, but no one yelled anything about Samuel...well I mean, I did, but no one on stage did!  Bobby would be so confused...
    • The transition back into "Alligator" got pretty wild, thought they'd go right into "Caution" from here, maybe even "Lovelight."
  • Alligator >
    • They threw in the "We Bid you Goodnight Jam," which of course is the thing to do.
  • Feedback >
    • Wish they had gone all the way into "Caution," but I can't complain!
    • I think the feedback in "Dark Star" was heavier, but this was more deliberate and longer.
  • We Bid You Good Night
    • Who doesn't love this as a show closer??
  • Easy Wind
    • These two were elective encores.  They liken them to filler on a tape.
    • Lisa came out for this one on harp, but didn't seem her usual self.  Very quiet and just a short solo.
  • Brokedown Palace
    • Probably my favorite traditional encore song, and this was a lovely version.

     So that was a night in Boston in '69!  I've now seen an elective set, a Europe '72 show, and one each from '69, '78, '79, '82!  Hard to rank them in concert quality ('78 was the worst, hot night at the end of a tour), but as far as the amount of fun had, all of them are tied.  DSO shows are always a great, lighthearted time.  There's none of the pressure that comes with seeing members of the Core Four, and all of the community and enjoyment - all for cheaper than an actual Dead show!

     Hope you enjoyed the post, let me know what you think and follow the blog on Twitter and Facebook @21stCenturyDead!  I should have a review of the Jorma concert up tomorrow....but maybe I won't.  Pretty short and acoustic, but we'll see!

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