Dark Star Orchestra, stalwarts of State Bridge, thrilled the riverside venue this weekend with its meticulous representations of Grateful Dead shows. Saturday’s show hailed from September 1972, a few months after the Grateful Dead’s celebrated Europe tour, where the San Francisco band honed its most psychedelic riffs.
Dark Star Orchestra labors to not just represent each note played during a particular show but to capture the style and tone of the Dead’s year. The fall of 1972 saw the Dead mingling its rootsy, bluegrass-inspired songs like “Deal,” “El Paso,” “Big River” and “Big Railroad Blues” with rambling, open-ended jams found in “Dark Star” and “Bird Song.”
Led by Bob Weir doppelganger Rob Eaton, the members of Dark Star Orchestra hardly go through the motions but submerge themselves in the music, with vocalist Lisa Mackey channeling Donna Jean Godchaux with her primitive howling. Jim Allard, filling in on bass with only a few shows under his belt, delivered a commanding performance as Phil Lesh, with bombing bass riffs and great singing.
You know how they say people who live together grow to look alike? Well Eaton has aged into a vision of Bob Weir, mirroring not just the Dead frontman’s head-rocking singing style and his wide ranging vocals but somehow developing his stern, Cro-Magnon brow.
Eaton’s command of Weir is occasionally eerie, with Eaton masterfully revealing Weir’s off-riff and downbeat guitar style. And his interplay with Jerry Garcia counterpart Jeff Mattson captures the Grateful Dead at their most inspired. That’s the thing with DSO. They play each song as the Dead would when everyone was on fire. There are no off-shows or weak performances, both of which were occasionally included in the Grateful Dead’s repertoire.
Mattson, who replaced John Kadlecik in 2009 after Kadlecik was called up to the big leagues to play his Jerry adjacent to Grateful Dead founders Lesh and Weir in Furthur, fills the beloved Jerry role with aplomb. He’s got the aching voice – evidenced in a moving “Stella Blue” and “Morning Dew” – and the subtle yet resonant licks on guitar.
Saturday night opener Andrew Portwood’s Andreux and the See of Sounds, saw the Frogs Gone Fishin’ bandleader playing with a tight, inspired band during the DSO setbreaks and even for a late hour after the show. With evocative originals and deep funk takes on classics like “Use Me Up,” Portwood’s band electrified State Bridge as freight trains rolled down the tracks mere feet from stage.
Jason Blevins is a strange dancer, but that has never stopped him.