For three solid hours last night I was in what had to be the happiest place in Minnesota, maybe the world. 1500 of my closest friends and I, Deadheads all, rocking out to the sultry tunes of our beloved and for the most part, expired favorite band, as interpreted by Dark Star Orchestra. After some initial skepticism about the idea of paying good money to see a “tribute” band, I have to suck it up and admit, it was pretty damn good. DSO are fulfilling their mission to “raise the dead”.
The crowd was about as I expected, a mix of wise handsome old bald guys and their “old ladies”, folks whom I’m sure spent at least part of their youth at some Dead show somewhere, and who are now lawyers, community activists and massage therapists, or as I like to say, the angry “core of the Democratic base”, aka white wine liberals. Now I include myself in that group, except my “old lady” remarked that the Dead is the second most vile music act on the planet, right after Neil Young and that for her, going to a “I-wish-I-was-still-a-hippiefest” was right down there with anesthetic free tooth extraction on her bucket list. She thinks the Dead and their fans were just a bunch of addicts looking for an excuse to be weird. She likes her 80’s pop music, nice clean easy to listen too stuff.. like uh, Whitney Houston, one of her favorites.
The other half of the crowd were young kids, like really young, 20 somethings. I’m guessing they found the their way to Dead via Phish and .moe and other post Dead jam bands. It was nice to see them there, means that the hippy movement isn’t quite dead yet.
As for the music.. well I can wax on enough about the quality of the band. They did a fantastic job channeling the spirit of the Band. The sound was excellent, the jams were tight and spot on, they faithfully recreated the great improvisation that drove the Dead on stages. No surprise that they were so popular live and so uh, shall we say, less than fantastic in the studio.
Jeff Matson, the lead guitar did a masterful job recreating Jerry Garcia’s understated high twang with his modified strat. If I didn’t know better I’d guess he’s had an effects loop added to the guitar. One thing about this band, they do pay attention to detail in recreating the Dead’s sound. Even the triple stack of speakers behind the lead guitar was right out of Jerry’s arsenal. Now I don’t know about coincidence, if this was planned or not, but I gotta tell ya, Jeff looked a lot like Jerry, good and bad. His singing was also pretty good, certainly sounded like Jerry if you closed your eyes. Rhythm guitarist Rob Eaton however, he WAS Bob Wier especially when he sang. It was a bit uncanny actually.
All in all, this is as close as you’re going to get to see the Dead today. Matter of fact in some ways, the concert was far more enjoyable than the travelling circus that the Dead were. Small venues, nice crowd, absolutely perfect weather.. couldn’t ask for a better night. I think the Grass Valley show in 83 had like 20,000 people there.
Today I was a bit sore after the big show, unlike the shows of my youth I’ve not spend three hours half dancing, nodding my head to a beat and singing aloud for three hours in several administrations. Today my knees are sore, my voice is shot and I’ve got a ringing in my ears. Never the less,