DSO In Flux


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.

Stu Allen

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.

Less impressed.

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):

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DSO In Flux

2 thoughts on “DSO In Flux

  1. Randy says:

    Jeff Mattson did a great job when I saw them.

    I have thought about how hard it must be for each musician to recreate the notes, vibe and particular song structure in the DSO approach (to recreate a specific Dead show). Especially those musicians to are used to delivering their own take on a variety of Dead tunes in tribute-style bands, with their own unique instrumental phrasings.

    Makes me think DSO would be a tough gig from a musician’s perspective.

  2. halmasonberg says:

    One of the things I most love(d) about DSO is that, even though John Kadlecik had Jerry’s style and phrasings down, he brought his own soulfulness to the proceedings. The jams were his, the improv was his. It was not a note for note breakdown of what Jerry played. That would tear the life from the music. No, what I learned was that this was an amazing band consisting of amazing musicians all in their own rights. They recreated Dead shows by tapping into the spirit and style, but not by being copy-cats. To do it correctly, one has to have both the skills and the inner voice to bring to the proceedings. Otherwise, you’re just like any other “tribute” band. And most of those, while somewhat entertaining, are, at the end of the day, lesser. DSO was not. They were, in many ways, like the Dead at their peak. Certainly their recreation of later shows was actually better and tighter than what the Dead themselves managed in their final 10 years together before Jerry’s passing. I worry that Stu Allen may not have what it takes. Or that anyone else will have what it takes. I couldn’t believe John Kadlecik had what it took. And I’ve been underwhelmed with his performances with Further. It’s like he’s not letting loose. And Bobby and Phil are still, for reasons beyond my understanding, still playing somewhat sloppily, in my opinion. It’s why I actually prefer DSO. Or did. We shall see.

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