Dark Star Orchestra

Brooklyn Bowl

November 15 2016

by Beth Parness

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Imagine if you will, another dimension, beyond which anything you have ever imagined, where there are no boundaries, and the elements of sound and sight, poetry and music combine in ways that are as vast and limitless as the universe. You are about to enter the DSO Zone.

Check out the full gallery of photos by Beth here.

Dark Star Orchestra with Jeff Mattson on vocals and guitar, Rob Eaton, rhythym guitar, Rob Barraco,keyboard, Lisa Mackey, vocals and harmonica, Skip Vangeles, bass, Dino English, drums, and Rob Koritz on drums touched down at the Brooklyn Bowl for their much anticipated two night excursion into the music of the Grateful Dead on November 14th and 15th.

The Dark Star Orchestra show on November 15th was a rarity, a show curated by DSO, and not a reprise of any of the Grateful Dead’s past shows. It was also, possibly the best show I have ever attended The chosen time period for the show was unequivocably the 1970’s. “I married me a wife, she gave me trouble all my life” Cold Rain and Snow, the Appalachian murder ballad, and frequent first set opener for the Dead since 1965, opened the portal doors to the first set. This mournful ballad, of the kind that Jerry was articularly fond, virtually crackled with energy, pushing the song’s underlying tension toward its breaking point, which in this case led to the unfortunate wife’s demise. Skip Vangeles played aggressive, articulated bass lines, over which Rob Eaton played fat rhythmic chunks of chords, adding shimmering arpeggiated notes to the upper registers, which illustrated the chord voicings implied in Jeff’s lead playing.

Rob Eaton is “the real thing, even better than the real thing” at times, baby. Rob is a masterful player, who can play wild and jazzy fusion chords, and then switch on a dime to rock, or blues or any style the music demands at that moment. Unfortunately, Rob Barraco’s keyboards were fairly low in the mix at this early point in the set and were barely perceptible, but the problem was rectified by the second song of the night, a bold straight ahead rendition of the Promised Land. Promised Land, an exuberant barn burner was played with rapid fire precision by Rob Eaton, also on vocals, as the audience broke out into individual adventures,and signature dance moves. Dino English, drove the 4/4 beat exuberantly full speed ahead, and was the sole drummer for most of this show, although he was joined on the encore by Rob Koritz.

Mississippi Half Step was next, with Jeff adding those plaintive almost wounded Jerry-like vocals, and soulful 1970’s guitar tone, with Lisa Mackey and Rob Eaton adding crisp harmonies to the refrain. After the jaunty and spirited Mama Tried, a lush and poignant It Must Have Been the Roses came next. You Aint Woman Enough(To Take My Man),the red hot show stealing song came next, featuring Lisa Mackey singing with passion, along with Jeff Mattson playing a calypso tinged accompanyment leading in and Rob Baracco playing colorful, honky tonk accompanyments on the keyboard. Skip Vangeles sang and played lead bass on Pride of Cucamonga, with the intelligent aesthetic of communicating with the audience, rather than overwhelming the mix with a heavy, dominating lead bass.

After a short intermission, the second set began with Greatest Story Ever Told, an exuberant, jaunty rocker, crisp as lightning, electrifying the crowd and propelling the music forward.

There were so many resplendent high notes too many to mention in the small space of one concert review, but one which truly stands out is the mystical and mind melting outro jam to the infrequently played Weather Report Suite/Let It Grow, where strains of Coltraine’s A Love Supreme were brilliantly and seemlessly woven into the solo by Jeff Mattson. This was followed by a minimalist, understated drum solo by Dino English gradually increasing in intensity, becoming an all out rhythmic conflagration that propelled the audience into the stratosphere. Drums were followed by Caution(Do Not Step On Tracks), and Casey Jones. Rob Koritz, came out on drums for the encore, and what a thrill it was to hear the Jerry Garcia tune, Cats Down Under the Stars never played by the Grateful Dead during their concerts. There were an amazing 23 songs played in total. How many musicians would be capable, inventive, or fearless enough to incorporate elements of jazz, jazz fusion, rock, swing, blues, country and even some calypso music into their renditions of these classic songs?

Here’s the secret: the Dark Star Orchestra is NOT a tribute band, they are an ensemble of incredibly gifted musicians who love to interpret the magnificent music of the Grateful Dead, in much the same way as noted jazz musicians interpret and play the music of the earlier masters. The Dark Star Orchestra is creating something that is alive, viable and new at each performance, and is continuously evolving.

The Brooklyn Bowl is my favorite venue right now, as it seems designed acoustically and physically for the best concert experience possible with the least hassles,, non intrusive staff, great bowling, food bar, lots of nooks and crannies to hang out in, and the dance floor never seemed too crowded. A wonderful transcendent evening was had by all!

Set One:

Cold Rain and Snow
Promised Land
Mississippi Half Step
Mama Tried
It Must Have Been the Roses
You Aint Woman Enough
Big Boy Pete
Loose Lucy ’73
The Race is On
Pride of Cucamonga
Here Comes Sunshine
Set Two:
Greatest Story Ever Told
They Love Each Other ’73
Big River
China Cat Sunflower
I know You Rider
Unbroken Chain
Eyes of the World
Weather Report Suite
Massive Jam-Drums
Caution(Do Not Step on Tracks)
Casey Jones
Encore: Cats Down Under the Stars