Taking a slight departure from Mr. Garcia’s own playing, I want to focus a bit on his legacy and the “scene” that lives on in his wake. While there are many jam bands out there, none have captured the Grateful Dead experience as closely as Dark Star Orchestra. Anyone who has followed my Dead-oriented scribblings here on this site know that the last few years have yielded an ever-increasing fascination for me with this band. While technically a Grateful Dead “cover” band, DSO has taken that concept to an entirely new level. You see, to be a Dead “cover” band, one must, well… depart from playing this music exactly as the Dead did themselves. Meaning, since the Grateful Dead’s live gigs were all about improvisation and never playing the same show twice, any cover band worth its two-cents would have to embrace improvisation to the fullest extreme. So, while DSO do quite often recreate entire set lists from Dead shows past, and the style and sound is based on the Grateful Dead at that particular time in history, the jamming is all Dark Star Orchestra. So in order to truly capture the spirit of the Dead with any accuracy or integrity, a Dead cover band would have to be one hell of a jam band in their own right.
With their new lead guitarist, Jeff Mattson, DSO is taking the music one step beyond. I’ve written this before and I’m bound to write it again. But it warrants repeating. We’ll never see Jerry Garcia grace a stage again (in this world, anyway!), but his legacy lives on in Dark Star Orchestra. While the remaining Grateful Dead members still perform the old tunes (now, ironically, with ex-DSO lead guitarist John Kadlecik), they have grown and morphed into a very different band with a rather different and wholly original approach to the music. Still steeped in improv and still full of joy, I have found the music a tad less exciting than when Jerry lead the way. They no longer feel like the Grateful Dead. In many ways, they are a lesser cover band, as odd as that may sound. Never as tight as I would like them to be, but still engaged in the act of making improvisational music and spreading joy, the remaining Grateful Dead members now take a back seat to the Grateful Dead experience as it had been during Garcia’s reign and Dark Star Orchestra stands in their stead. And that’s okay. Music is meant to grow and Phil, Bobby, Mickey and Bill are ever-changing, ever-exploring. But when I need me a true Grateful Dead live concert fix, I go see DSO. And to prove my point, here’s an absolutely smoking hot live performance by DSO just last month (July 8, 2010) at the All Good Music Festival in Masontown, WV. This is easily one of the tightest, most energetic shows I’ve ever listened to. Including by the Grateful Dead themselves. Sound too good to be true? Take a listen and you tell me. I would love to hear your thoughts. And, though this is an audience recording, it’s one of the cleanest and clearest I’ve ever heard.
So strap on those headphones, crank the volume way up high, and hold on tight.
The bus leaves from HERE.