A lot of bands attempt to recreate the music of the beloved Grateful Dead, but all pale in comparison to Dark Star Orchestra. Normally theater/club shows feature DSO fully recreating a specific Dead show, which is actually amazing. This wasn’t the case for the show at the historic Buskirk-Chumley Theater; concertgoers were treated with a rare treat in the form of an acoustic set. A set described by Rob Eaton (rhythm guitar/vocals) as a “stools and stories set”. The evening began with the director of the venue explaining its role in Bloomington’s history¸ the notion of it being owned by the city, and recognition of donors. After the brief formality, DSO took the stage. In an attempt to pass time while certain members got situated, Alice’s Restaurant filled the air in a playful manner. Also something worth noting, Jeff Mattson (lead guitar/vocals/Jerry comparative), was a new member I hadn’t seen play with the band since he joined full-time in 2010. I was especially excited to see Mattson perform given the fact that he is a founding member of the Zen Tricksters, who have been playing Dead covers for over 30 years.
After the initial silliness, Dark Star opened up with “Dire Wolf”, easily atop my list of Grateful Dead songs. It was a pleasantly surprising acoustic rendition of the lyrically amazing song. I must be completely honest, I was skeptical before the show due to it being an acoustic show, but from the beginning it was highly impressive. Another highlight in the show was when they played “Operator”, a song which is featured on the famed Dead album American Beauty. I was blown away with how well DSO executed the song, adding an excellent element with their personal touch. Things just seemed to keep getting better during the show, especially when they covered Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough”. I was completely blown away by this cover and it was easily my favorite part of the show. DSO continued to impress me, playing “The Thrill is Gone”, a song that digs deep within my soul and makes my mind and body feel magical. The show was fun and very energetic, with Rob Barraco (keys/vocals) fueling the tempo with amazing piano solos.
Further adding to the luster of the show was when they played “Cassidy”, another song very dear to me. Things truly got silly when Lisa Mackey (vocals) whipped out the kazoo during “Tell It To Me (Cocaine Blues)”. It was pretty much awesome and you could sense the band was truly having a lot of fun onstage. Another highlight of the show was that they covered the Everly Brother’s “Wake Up A Little Susie”. It was spot on and kind of made me giggle, in a very good way. All in all, it was an unbelievable show. I felt very impressed leaving the show. DSO was the first club show I saw upon turning 21 oh so many years ago, and the ever-changing group has definitely made positive growth throughout the years. Click here to checkout more photos from the show.
Written by: Alex Toy