Dark Star Orchestra has been doing the Dead for a long time. 20 years to be exact. This isn’t just a cover band. These guys have Dead cred. Several members of the band have played with Grateful Dead members Phil Lesh and Bob Weir. Guitarist Jeff Mattson has recorded with Donna Gochaux. Heck, Lesh, Weir and Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann have actually joined DSO on stage.
Dark Star Orchestra brought the Dead concert experience to the Weezner Family Amphitheater at the Minnesota Zoo on Thursday Night.
Full disclosure: I love these guys, seen them a bunch of times. I got to go to a bunch of Grateful Dead shows between ’79-’84, and I can tell you that Dark Star Orchestra are the real deal. Despite the circus that grew up around them in the 80’s and 90’s, at their heart, the Grateful Dead were about creating a symbiotic bond between the audience and the band with the music. And that’s what Dark Star Orchestra are all about, letting the music play the band.
Guitarist Rob Eaton opened the show by explaining that the blue case on stage was a record player belonging to the bands recently deceased tour manager Matt Reynolds. While that may have been a bit of a somber start, the band launched into a super charged version of Promised Land, which immediately had the crowd dancing. The Weezner Family Amphitheater is such a cool place to see live music. They allow people to dance freely everywhere, and there was a huge crowd of whirling tie dye in front of the stage. Actually, I saw very few people sitting at any point during the show. DSO perform like 150+ shows a year, and that is evident listening to them. The energy just kept rising as the band cranked through a smoking hot Bird Song. Jeff Mattson was channeling Jerry, and this version of Bird Song had a real ’73 vibe to me. My highlight of the night was the psychedelic journey that was Playing In The Band. As I walked around the Amphitheatre, I saw Dead Heads from 8 to 80 having a blast, dancing and singing with the joy of children.
The Grateful Dead celebrated their 50th anniversary this year. Thursday nights sold out crowd showed that 50 years later, Dark Star Orchestra can bring that magical experience to life.