It’s always a bit scary to watch a band you love lose its lead guitarist and move through several new ones as it tries and find its new footing. And so it currently goes with Dark Star Orchestra. With the loss of lead guitarist and founding member John Kadlecik to Further (Bob Weir and Phil Lesh’s new band), DSO snatched up Donna Jean and the Zen Tricksters‘ Jeff Mattson. I was concerned as John’s shoes were gonna be hard, nay near impossible, to fill (hell, the shoes John was filling were as tough as any and he did them justice). To my surprise and ecstatic delight, Mattson slipped right in with DSO as if he had been there all along. Perhaps not quite as nuanced as John had been, but damn impressive nonetheless.
So no sooner had I bought tix to see DSO‘s new incarnation, than the band announced yet another lead guitarist for the spring tour to take over Mattson’s short-lived slot. What? This was not good news, to say the least. I mean, how many times can you fill these very large shoes and hope that they fit somewhat snugly and don’t just fall off mid-stride?
I don’t yet have that answer.
DSO‘s new guitarist, Stu Allen, has certainly filled big shoes before. In fact, the same shoes John Kadlecik filled. Only in a different incarnation. Allen has been the lead guitarist for Jerry Garcia’s namesake band JGB with keyboardist Melvin Seals. And having listened to some of their work, I have to say, I’m pretty impressed. Allen also heads another Grateful Dead tribute band called Front Street.
While not a bad band by any stretch, they do not capture the energy that DSO has conjured up. So what will happen when these two forces meet to create something entirely new? We’ll just have to wait and see. There’s enough to suggest it might just be the perfect match. Or it may fall short of the mark. The bar has been set quite high, after all.
So I will listen and post here as DSO‘s spring tour starts. And I will keep my fingers crossed and my heart and mind open. And hope this new phase of the journey doesn’t wear out those old shoes anytime soon.
Here’s a bit of Stu Allen with JGB:
And with Front Street (with the Grateful Dead’s Bill Kreutzman sitting in as the second drummer):