It’s not every day that a Grateful Dead cover band big enough to pack the Palace Theater comes to the Twin Cities. Young and old showed up this past Saturday night to see Dark Star Orchestra. Twenty-six years ago, “DSO” played their first show on 11/11, making this particular show a cause for celebration by the band and its fans.
Each member of the band plays the role of one of the members of The Grateful Dead, with Jeff Mattson taking on Jerry Garcia. Mattson has spent time on stage with the likes of Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, and many more.
On the second guitar is Rob Eaton, and the two drum kits are manned by Dino English and Rob Koritz. Skip Vangelas plays bass, and Rob Barraco covers the keys.
Accompanying the band on vocals is Lisa Mackey. Every time I listen to this woman sing, I am absolutely taken aback. Her stage presence is calming yet fun, and when she starts to sing, everyone in the room stops dancing to take in the dynamic range of her voice. The last time DSO was in town, they encored with White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane, and I have been in love with her ever since.
Rounding the corner to The Palace Theater I was slowly immersed back into an atmosphere that I have come to know and love. Nearly everyone had a smile on their face, and the collective experience of one more Saturday night took hold of us all. It often feels like a homecoming when I am able to return to the seemingly immortal Grateful Dead scene.
The feeling of a never-ending scene owed itself largely to the demographic. The balcony sold out first, which is to be expected as many old-timers would rather enjoy the show from up top instead of working to make their way to the front of the floor.
In contrast, the floor consisted of many patrons under the age of 30. Seeing this is a testament to the music of The Dead, which still attracts droves of young people 28 years after playing their last show.
Bands like Dark Star Orchestra have been instrumental in the progression of this scene. DSO’s unique approach is to cover the setlist of a specific Dead show each night. In the crowd, I heard attendees trying to guess the show after the first few songs.
“It’s got to be from the 70s”, one gentleman said. However, this fan was later proved wrong by the final song of the first set: Touch Of Grey, which The Dead debuted in 1982.
DSO played many other fan favorites, such as Jack Straw, Scarlet Begonias, and Estimated Prophet. As the band took on the souls of The Dead throughout the night, the fans loved them for it. The band returned the love with an exuberant, never-ending supply of stage presence and energy, even through some of the slower songs on the setlist.
DSO eventually posts the setlist and the date of the show covered for each performance. At the time of this writing, it had not been posted on their website, but the unofficial setlist can be found on SetlistFM.