The past harmonizes. Everyone on Earth has a doppelganger. Both axioms proved to be true upon my second time seeing the Grateful Dead reenactment group, Dark Star Orchestra. As I stared onto the stage at guitarist Rob Eaton’s mouth gaping Bob Weir face, I thought to myself, “how was tonight any different than if i’d been born a child of the 60’s and gotten here through a more natural twist of fate?”
Time is obstinate — it can twist and contort, but ultimately remains constant in a relative state of mind. On this particular hazy post liberty influenced weekend, as the Chicago heat toned down from triple digits outside, inside the Park West Theater Dark Star Orchestra did their best to raise the temperature by recreating one helluva Grateful Dead set whose original audience experienced during a time and space at the Auditorium Theater on 5/13/77.
One could contend the spring of ’77 is arguably one of the best runs to be a Deadhead and if you looked around the venue last Saturday and judged by who was onstage and in the audience you might have surely thought you stepped into a wormhole that transported you back 35 years to that golden era. This particular show saw the band perform the very first “Jack-A-Roe” and had a wonderfully rare first set close with “Scarlet Begonias>Fire On The Mountain.”
Those who tell me they don’t like seeing bands that only cover one specific group with no original tunes have their right to an opinion. But imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, why wouldn’t you want to close your eyes and let your mind expand on a cosmic journey from one of the legendary groups that influenced thousands? Oh and who, by the way, changed the course of history along the way creating an entire genre. You’d have to be on a close minded ship of fools to believe you couldn’t enjoy DSO even one tiny iota.
The likeness both in playing style and appearance is palpable. During “Cassidy” the hair on the back of my neck stood up. It didn’t matter that it was Jeff Mattson and not Jerry Garcia to me onstage because this was my reality — not 1977 Dave. Besides I would like to think Jerry would like his music to live on through such a dedicated group of musicians. A Deadhead is the harshest critic when it comes to judging an audible incarnation of a legend. The artistry and skill in one’s craft needed to be able to pull off such a feat is beyond comprehension. Not one person dancing and whirling in the crowd that night knew or cared. Original hippies and neo-hippie clad youth all shouted the chorus to “Goin Down The Road Feeling Bad” with the same exuberance.
Lisa Mackey, who plays the role of Donna Jean Godchaux, returned from a brief hiatus for the bands Colorado stint. She donned her trademark headphones, spun, and whirled, lending vocals to “Stella Blue.” Later as the set closed she provided a treat on harmonica for “Next Time You See Me.”
The highlight of the show, chalked full of classics as it was, however was “The Other One” jam. Coming out of “Drums” people exploded when Rob belted out the first verse nearly 13 minutes after the song began. The past run in Chicago had DSO playing the Vic which while having a larger capacity room diminishes the intimacy factor slightly. Park West was perfectly suited to cater to a crowd that appreciated the musicianship more than the ability to consume. The high domed ceiling where the disco ball hung allowed for those with laser pointers to add to the spacey spectacle. Past and present collided and for one more Saturday night in one of the best Grateful Dead cover bands 1900+ shows it harmonized to perfection.