At Colonial May 22, Dark Star Orchestra may show itself to be Better Band than Grateful Dead

There are cover bands, there are tribute bands, and then there’s Dark Star Orchestra. Photo by Peter Wochniak.

It’s musical heresy to say that the Dark Star Orchestra sounds better than The Grateful Dead, the band they bring back to life on stage. Many deadheads are pleasantly surprised by their chops, their ability to sound like the band they admire so much. You will have a chance to decide this for yourself when the Dark Star Orchestra arrives at The Colonial Theatre on May 22, 2012 at 7:30pm.

They will bring with them song-for-song recreations of Grateful Dead performances. However this isn’t any ordinary tribute band, according to the Washington Post, Dark Star Orchestra is “A cover band for people who don’t like cover bands.” I think it is what the original band would sound like today if fate and time had not interrupted its amazingly long run as one of America’s most musical bands.

The Chicago-based collective satisfies both veteran and newbie Grateful Dead fans by recreating setlists song-for-song as culled from thousands of shows performed by the Dead in their three-decade tenure. Aside from Dark Star’s talents at reviving a relentlessly beloved canon, the collective has retained a consistent following for more than 13 years because in addition to adapting the phrasing, vocal arrangements, and specific musical equipment to stay true to the various eras of Dead shows in which they perform, they simultaneously expand upon the songs with their own improvisations, making their shows both familiar and unique all at once.

Critics and fans aren’t the only ones singing Dark Star Orchestra’s praises. Numerous original members of the Grateful Dead have played alongside DSO and Grateful Dead co-founder Bob Weir has even said, “A couple of times when I had my back to the stage and they started to sing, I had this weird sense that it was Jerry.”

Dark Star Orchestra’s shows are built off the extensive catalog of the Grateful Dead. On any given night the band will perform a show based on a set list from the Grateful Dead’s 30 years of extensive touring or use the catalog of original songs and often played covers to create a unique set list for the show. This allows music fans both young and old to share in the experience. Dark Star Orchestra presents its critically acclaimed live show at esteemed venues from coast to coast and internationally.

Grateful Dead classics are performed in the same way that an orchestra interprets music of classical composers. The composer’s spirit is derived and channeled as the players capture the excitement and innovation of the original performances and compositions. Continuing a long and strange trip since humble beginnings over a decade ago, Dark Star Orchestra’s determined commitment to ‘raising the Dead’ has drawn nationwide attention.

The Dark Star Orchestra musicians are serious about their sounds. Photo by Bob Minkin.

Made up of Jeff Mattson (Jerry Garcia), Lisa Mackey (Donna Jean Godchaux), Dino English (Bill Kreutzmann), Rob Koritz (Mickey Hart), Kevin Rosen (Phil Lesh), Rob Eaton (Bob Weir) and Rob Barraco (multiple keyboardists), Dark Star Orchestra does not try to match Grateful Dead live songs note for note. Anything so formulaic would quickly dispel the free spirit embodied in the music.

While faithful improvisation is pinnacle, precision is of equal importance with DSO, which position the stage plot based on the year of Grateful Dead show to be performed, adapting phrasing, voice arrangements, and even arranges specific musical equipment for the various eras of Dead music performed. At the end of each performance, the band announces the date and venue where the original show just covered took place. Dark Star Orchestra dips into every incarnation of the Dead, so most fans can “see” shows that happened long before they were born.

“Quite possibly the most talented and accomplished tribute band out there… they’ve definitely mastered their inspiration’s vagabond nature.” –

“Recreates the Dead concert experience with uncanny verisimilitude… In fact, Dark Star Orchestra often sounds more like the Dead than the Dead sometimes did.” – Chicago Tribune

One thing you can be sure of is that the Dark Star Orchestra is not a cover band. Its shows are not even meant as tributes. What Dark Star Orchestra tirelessly strives for and achieves is a continuation of the spirit of what has now become over forty years of the Grateful Dead’s timeless music.

Tickets to Dark Star Orchestra are $25-$35. Tickets may be purchased in person at The Colonial Theatre Ticket Office at 111 South Street Pittsfield, MA 01201 or by calling (413) 997-4444 or online at The Ticket Office is open Monday-Friday 10am–5pm, Saturdays 10am–2pm or on any performance day from 10am until intermission.

One thought on “At Colonial May 22, Dark Star Orchestra may show itself to be Better Band than Grateful Dead

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