Music:Band Scene; by Jer Cole; Outfit Puts Its Own Spin on Grateful Dead Tunes
Dark Star Orchestra has made a science of reproducing Grateful Dead concerts for 15 years. The act is so often praised for its dedication to authenticity that it has become far more than a mere cover band. With the overwhelming blessing of Grateful Dead's surviving lineup, the group carries on the legacy of these pioneers of improvisational rock. Beyond simply playing Dead songs, Dark Star Orchestra performs, song for song, a slew of specific sets from the Grateful Dead's 2,500 shows. Having nearly reached the same number of performances as the original band (DSO has around 2,000 shows under its belt to date), the group points out that the replications have yet to stagnate. Though everything from the set lists to stage layout is true to the original performances, Dark Star Orchestra has yet to play the same show twice, as they honor the Dead's musical spontaneity above all.
"When performing a set list from a particular Grateful Dead era, our goal is to play the appropriate keys, tempos, lyrics and arrangements that were being used by the Grateful Dead at that particular time," DSO lead guitarist/ vocalist Jeff Mattson explains. "This also extends to the instrumentation - what keyboards were used, what guitars and guitar effects were used, whether there were one or two drummers, and which extra percussion predominated in that era. That having been said, the actual notes we play in solos, in jams and even in the interiors of the songs is all of our own choosing and execution. What makes playing Grateful Dead music night after night so much fun is that there is so much room for personal expression and real-time musical conversation. It's not a dusty museum piece; it's a living, breathing musical experience. When the music is really happening, it feels like we don't have to try at all."
"We don't do anything note for note and we wouldn't ever think of it," adds guitarist/vocalist Rob Eaton. "This music was created in the spirit of improvisation and should always be approached that way. The minute you try to copy something you will fail. We as individual musicians will put our own spin on things not unlike what the original Dead members would have done."
In resurrecting the Dead for new generations, Dark Star Orchestra has demonstrated a precision and talent for improvisation that has caught the eye of not only its overwhelming following but surviving Grateful Dead members and other jam legends as well. DSO has welcomed guest performers that include former Dead members, and many of DSO's roster have been recruited into the ex-Dead's new projects, a privilege for which they are truly "grateful. …