Dark Star Orchestra – Live at Variety Playhouse

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With my son in the Winter Break doldrums, I searched for a concert outing to give him a lift.  Step 1: Look at the concert calendar at my favorite Atlanta venue: Variety Playhouse.  


Dark Star Orchestra… a band that plays complete Grateful Dead concerts with the songs in the sequence in which they were first played.  This particular Saturday evening, they played the Dead’s 6/29/76IMG_5793a concert from the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, IL, plus some extras.  These things matter to Dead Heads.

I’m not a Dead Head.  My son is not either.  Or his best friend, who tagged along. 

I’m familiar with about 3 or 4 of their songs, and none of those were played on 6/29/76.   Maybe if I had caught DSO on another night… because per their website, they play a different show each time they play.  And, this waIMG_5760as their 20th show in 25 days.  That’s quite a repertoire.  Note: If you’re going to make a career as a cover band, choose someone like The Go-Go’s.  Hour and 40 minutes, and you’re done.  Pink Floyd?  Maybe two hours.  The Grateful Dead?  Hour and a half.  Then an intermission.  Then play for another hour and a half.  20 shows in 25 days?  They didn’t show it.

Did they sound like the Grateful Dead?  Likely very similar.  Did their mannerisms match those of the original band members?  I don’t know, but a chance encounter with a friend at the show suggested that they did.  Was it a good show?  Definitely.  It was sold out for a reason.


I was curious as to who would attend a Dead cover band show.  Old Dead Heads?  Or new Dead Heads?  Both, and in between.  Musically, they were entertaining.  IMG_5837a When musicians play others’ music, presumably note for note, I guess it’s a credit to the Dead.  In any case, guitarist/singer Jeff Mattson’s solos were varied and interesting, and the other musicians (keyboards, bass, rhythm guitar, two drums, female singer) rounded out the spectrum nicely.  The band had a very relaxed pace between songs.  What was interesting is that the guitarists played the same guitars the entire show, and with minimal foot pedal gimmickry.  That’s rare these days.


One of the perils of standing about 5 hours on a concrete floor, besides an aching back, is the unexpected movement of the concert goers.  A 5’8 250 pound guy suddenly swerves in circular motions, clearing space.  A very much enraptured couple dance closely and suggestively enough to… Others suddenly bend forward to light an illicit drug.  And not just the young guys, but the mid-50’s guy who I’d peg as a fed up corporate drone, and the 60+ year old gentleman who apparently still enjoys his youth.  Then there’s tIMG_5816he guy who, although 20 years younger, must also have a bad back because he shifts constantly from left to right, pushing others away inch by inch.  Bah, whatever.  At least I didn’t have a 6’6 inch person stand in front, and I do like to see up close.  The crowd is part of the experience, and they were experiencing just what they wanted – rock n’ roll, drugs, and at least a promise of sex later.  Parting comment here.  If a guy brings a date, and she’s at best, 5’5”, does it really make sense to take her to the floor area where she has no chance of a view?  Just asking.


I’m still not a Dead Head, but it was a fine Saturday evening.

Set list:

Tennessee Jed
Mama Tried
Mission In The Rain
Looks Like Rain
Brown Eyed Women
Lazy Lightnin'
Row Jimmy
The Music Never Stopped > Might As Well


Samson And Delilah
Playing In The Band > The Wheel > Playing In The Band Reprise
Saint Stephen > Not Fade Away > Saint Stephen > One More Saturday Night

Encore: U.S. Blues (complete 1976 show)

Extras: Easy Wind > Going Down The Road Feeling Bad

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