Tribute band Dark Star Orchestra raises Grateful Dead for Stage AE show
Few bands in rock history have had a more loyal and devoted audience than the Grateful Dead.
“Deadheads,” as they are called, know the band's studio albums inside out, and many own dozens — if not hundreds — of tapes of Grateful Dead concerts and have delved extensively into how certain songs in the Dead catalog changed live and evolved from era to era.
So, to aim to be the ultimate Grateful Dead tribute band — as Dark Star Orchestra has done — is no easy task. The fans will demand an authentic experience and will know if a band fudges on a song or fails to capture the vibe of a certain era in the Dead's history.
Fans will get a chance to see Dark Star work its magic Aug. 8 at Stage AE, North Shore.
One thing keeps Dark Star Orchestra from feeling the pressure to live up to an elevated standard in re-creating the music and spirit of the Grateful Dead. “We are those people, too,” singer-guitarist Jeff Mattson (who plays the late Dead frontman Jerry Garcia) says. “So, those same qualities that the other Deadheads are looking for, we're looking for it in the music ourselves.”
That kind of knowledge and playing ability allows Dark Star to be more than just a garden-variety cover band.
Dark Star tries to conjure the free-wheeling, unpredictable, improvisational character of a Grateful Dead live show.
The band re-creates specific concerts by the Grateful Dead, playing the songs in sequence, trying to replicate the way the Dead sounded that night (right down to using instruments and equipment from that period). They also indulge in jams that are as unscripted as those the Dead would undertake in its legendary live shows.
Dark Star also does what the band calls elective sets, in which it puts together its own set list of Dead songs, mixing tunes from different periods and sometimes combining the ways the song was performed by the Dead at different points in the group's career.
Mattson enjoys both types of Dark Star shows, for different reasons. “There's something neat about doing a (re-creation) show and trying to get all of the details right as far as the arrangements from that period in which the show was originally performed and the instrumentation and the vibe and the tempos,” he says. “That kind of attention to detail for hardcore Deadheads, like ourselves, is fun. By the same token, doing the elective sets allows us to juxtapose songs together from different eras that had never really been played together before and try all different combinations. That gives us a certain freedom that's a lot of fun, too.”
The group was formed in 1997 in Chicago by John Kadlecik (who portrayed Garcia) and keyboardist Scott Larned (keyboards). A number of other musicians passed through the group in its early years, but several of the current members — Rob Eaton (as guitarist-singer Bob Weir), Dino English (drummer Bill Kreutzmann), Rob Koritz (drummer Mickey Hart) and Lisa Mackey (singer Donna Jean Godchaux) — have been in Dark Star for more than a decade.
Keyboardist Rob Barraco joined following the death of Larned in 2005, while Skip Vangelas (bassist Phil Lesh) joined last year. Mattson came aboard in 2009.
Mattson, though, was hardly a new face in Grateful Dead circles. He was a founding member of the Zen Tricksters, a group that recorded some original material, but was perhaps best known for its extensive repertoire of Dead songs.
Mattson was excited to cast his lot with Dark Star.
“Nobody's really done it better, and I say this going back to way before I was in Dark Star Orchestra,” he says. “Nobody's put together, that I've ever heard, a band that pays attention to the details and the production values on the level of Dark Star.
“As soon as I played with them, oh boy, it just felt so good. It felt so right.”
Alan Sculley is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.