reCAP :: Dark Star Orchestra :: 2016.05.20
The Grateful Dead time machine, also known as Dark Star Orchestra, rolled into Port Chester and kicked the night off with “Cold Rain and Snow.” My first hope was that they were playing one of my favorite shows from the Philly Spectrum on 4-6-82, but the tempo of the song was relaxed, and Lisa Mackey was spinning on stage, so I guessed it was a show from ’76 or ’78. The guessing game was over for me when “Big River” appeared in the two-hole. The band was recreating a show from September 28, 1976 in Syracuse, a concert that is immortalized on Volume 20 of the Dick’s Picks CD series. An inspired “Bertha” was next on the set list, and a group of youngsters by my side were dancing and yodeling as if this were a Grateful Dead concert, and it occurred to me that there’s no way they ever saw the real thing, so DSO was bringing an essential American experience alive for them. This isn’t jamband interpretations; DSO is almost the real thing.
This was the first time I saw the band recreate a 1976 show, and as the first set slipped into a bit of a malaise, I wished I wasn’t seeing a ’76 re-enactment. That changed when they noodled into a “Let it Grow” that was furious, and elegantly jazzy. Jeff Mattson, the guitarist who has channeled the playing of Jerry Garcia better than anyone for four decades now, had another outstanding night. He always delivers the goods. The outro solo segued into a romping “Goin’ Down the Road” to end the set. The Grateful Dead was a band in transition in ‘76, and the most appealing aspect of their performances were their unique song combinations and set sequencing.
The second set was a long, magical song loop that kicked off with “Playin’ in the Band.” The sound was as crisp as could be as Rob Eaton strummed away in the style of Weir, and Rob Barraco fingers danced across the keyboards in the style of Keith. As the jam spun into “The Wheel,” The Cap was swept into a state of transcendence. It became 1976. DSO had the mojo rollin’ like never before. A smoking “Samson and Delilah” had that playful ’76 bounce, as opposed to the no nonsense rock arrangements of years to come.
Mattson stopped time in tracks with a poignant “Comes a Time.” On the other side of drums, a spirited “Eyes of the World” rippled through the grand theatre to the delight of the dancing faithful. The second solo was extended beyond what the Dead had done in Syracuse forty years earlier. And as the great loop was finished off by a Dancin’ in the Street > Playin’ Reprise, the band’s attention to detail was uncanny. All the nuances were there, inside the sonic landscape. The second set was just exactly perfect.