MUSIC BOX: DSO: Keeping the Dead alive

By on September 24, 2013

92513musicboxJACKSON HOLE, WYO – It’s an amazing feat to ponder: Dark Star Orchestra (DSO) has played more than 2,200 shows in 15 years. That is only a hundred or so shy of the number that the Grateful Dead played over their four decades as a band.

Recreating historic Grateful Dead setlists on a song-by-song basis, as well as intermittently crafting their own setlists, Dark Star Orchestra offers a continually evolving artistic outlet within the Grateful Dead’s musical canon. Matching equipment, stage layout and even members (various eras included female vocals or multiple drummers), DSO’s determined commitment to “raising the Dead” has earned them high praise, and for good reason. They are really good. Certainly one of the best “cover” bands around.

The first time I saw DSO was July 16, 2002, at the Mangy Moose. The show they covered that night was Sept. 9, 1972’s at the Hollywood Palladium. At that point, the band had only been together a mere four years, but were already melting faces and making waves in the jamband community, which was at or near its peak. Their next local show was in August 2004 at the Mangy Moose, revisiting an interesting milestone of a performance by the Grateful Dead on March 15, 1973, from Nassau Veteran’s Memorial. That show was marked not only by Phil Lesh’s 33rd birthday and the first show after Pigpen’s death, but it also was DSO guitarist Jeff Mattson’s first Dead show.

“Perhaps the most important mission of DSO is to bring this wonderful music and improvisational style to a new generation,” Mattson told Houston Press in response to the changing demographics at DSO shows. “In the same way a symphony orchestra keeps the music of Beethoven or Mahler alive and heard in a concert setting by each new generation, we seek to propagate Grateful Dead music and keep it alive.”

It’s worth noting that while DSO pays close attention to setlists, they do not try to match Grateful Dead songs note for note. “Anything so formulaic would be of a great disservice to the free spirit of The Dead’s live performances,” reads the band’s website. Even former Grateful Dead band members have acknowledged, and even jammed with, the band. Most recently, that was drummer Bill Kreutzmann.

“I have been fortunate enough to have played at one time or another with all the living members of the Dead,” Mattson said. “I cherish those experiences as the high points of my musical career. I would loved to have gotten a chance to play with Jerry Garcia to see what our musical conversation would be like. I got to meet Jerry briefly once [in New York City at the bar downstairs of the Ritz Carlton] … and I treasure our interaction. He was very kind and engaging.”

Dark Star Orchestra, 8 p.m. on Friday at Pink Garter Theatre. $30/advance, $35/day-of-show at The Rose, Pinky G’s or

Dead keyboardist in Driggs

The extended Grateful Dead family is representin’ over in Teton Valley as well. Former Dead keyboardist Tom Constanten (1968-70) will join Eugene-based hippie jammers Normal Bean Band. The sextet’s Facebook description provides some insight: “With a Go-Go Dancer and a Washtub [bass], you can expect funky jams that you can dance your feet to and dreamy Space tunes that carry you away.”

Normal Bean Band featuring Tom Constanten, 7 p.m. on Saturday at Alpine Wines Bistro in Driggs. Free, donations encouraged.

About Aaron Davis

Aaron Davis is a decade-long writer of Music Box, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login