Dark Star Orchestra, a Chicago-native tribute band to the rock group the Grateful Dead, performed at the Pabst Theatre in Milwaukee last Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016, surpassing expectations in their enactment.
Originating in 1997, the band has been known for recreating the Grateful Dead concert experience. During many of their concerts, DSO performs the complete original set list in order, while providing voice and musical equipment highly comparable to the Grateful Dead. They even have been called the hottest tribute band to date.
Members of the Grateful Dead themselves, such as Bob Wier, Phil Lesh, Bill Kruetzmann, Donna Jean Godchaux, Vince Welnick, and Tom Constanten have appeared during DSO shows and even performed with them. In addition to this success, members of the rock band Phish have also performed with DSO.
Current members, Rob Barraco, Rob Eaton, Dino English, Rob Koritz, Lisa Mackey, Jeff Mattson, and Skip Vangelas, visited the Pabst Theatre once again only to outshine all existing expectations of their mirroring performance with the real Grateful Dead experience. Yes, they were good.
Good is a petty synonym to use to label their virtuous night at the Pabst, it is almost insulting. In an interview with one of the two drummers of DSO, English, he remanences about past performances in Milwaukee, recalling being worried that “people were going to rock so hard they were going to fall off the balcony.” As an attendee in the balcony, I could see why he was troubled. People love the Dead, they love DSO and sure do they love to dance.
Ages of the attendees ranged from seventeen to seventy, which I continuously find alluring at concerts; music has no age. Devoted fans, aka “Deadheads” wore tie dye and other t-shirts plastered in iconic Grateful Dead symbols such as the dancing bears, skulls and roses, Jester, Steal Your Face skull, dancing terrapins, and the Uncle Sam skeleton. Many women were spotted in maxi skirts and many individuals had dreads. The fans and attendees much resembled a fun, time-traveling fashion sense rooted to the 70s.
DSO played an original Grateful Dead setlist from June of 1976 that they performed in Chicago. Their show was a total of four hours. They performed for three and a half hours with a thirty-minute intermission between two sets. Countless times I caught myself turning to my plus-one saying, “It is scary how similar they sound to the Grateful Dead.” That is the only word I could think to use while I sat and watched, scary. I genuinely felt like I stepped into a different dimension where I was at a real Grateful Dead show. Strung behind the two drummers was a tie dye tapestry which changed colors due to lighting and on each side were screens which jumbled different shapes. Between the visuals and lightings, it was clear why attendees chose to take psychedelics.
Sweet and simple, DSO was more superior I could have asked for. I would recommend them to anyone who is a true Grateful Dead fan, looking to experience what the band created a long time ago.
An unedited version of the set list performed Saturday by DSO is listed below.
1) Tennessee Jed
4) Mama Tried
5) Mission in the Rain
6) Looks Like Rain
7) Brown-Eyed Women
8) Lazy Lightning
10) Row Jimmy
11) The Music Never Stopped
12) Might as Well
13) Samson and Delilah
15) Playing in the Band
16) The Wheel
17) Playing in the Band (reprise)
18) St. Stephen
19) Not Fade Away
20) One More Saturday Night
21) U.S. Blues
22) Tore Up Over You
23) The Weight