Dark Star Orchestra is a Dead ringer
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At this point, just about every classic rock band has a tribute band somewhere, from local bar-band groups like Bon Journey to bigger productions like Australian Pink Floyd and The Musical Box, specializing in Genesis.
One given in the tribute-band industry is that when you mess with the Grateful Dead, you're getting in deep. Although you don't need costumes or props, it's going to involve not just a variety of styles, but long sets with trippy and intricate improvisational jams.
The Dark Star Orchestra, founded in Chicago, has been doing this for the past 12 years, with enough success to not only move up to theaters, but also have members of the Dead, including Bob Weir and Bill Kreutzmann, jam with them. The crossover doesn't stop there. Keyboardist Rob Barraco, a touring member of The Dead and Phil Lesh and Friends, took over for the late Scott Larned four years ago, and the latest word is that singer-guitarist John Kadlecik (the DSO's Jerry Garcia) has been recruited for a Lesh-Weir project called Further next year.
Kadlecik is mum on that, and on the DSO concert at the Carnegie Library Music Hall tonight, but he did talk about his love for the Dead.
So, what's on the agenda for the Pittsburgh show?
Uh... We're going to play some Grateful Dead music [laughs]. We like to keep our surprises under our hats. Most of the time we play a full Dead show straight-through. Occasionally, we do one of our own make-it-up-on-the-fly shows where not even the band knows what song is coming next.
What do you remember about your first Dead show?
It was Rosemont Horizon [Chicago, 1989]. There was a "Shakedown Street" opener. Somewhere in there was a "Terrapin Station," but most of the details are fuzzy. I had seen other shows at the location, but it was so much better sounding and feeling than anything else I'd seen there.
What do you admire most about the band?
The full-time commitment to peak experience, that they'd rather fall on their faces in front of 20,000 people and go for something really ecstatically special than just play it safe all the time.
Do you have a favorite era of the Dead?
I can narrow it down to three favorite eras that just about tie each other: '73-74, '77-78 and '89-90.
Do you see DSO as different than a Beatles or Pearl Jam tribute band?
There are similarities and differences. We never tried to do the look-alike thing. We never cared to -- we weren't about that. And in choosing the name Dark Star we were consciously embracing the fact that we loved playing the psychedelic jams. A lot of tribute bands try and just give the audience as close to the album version as they can get, because that's what the audience wants. But we're fortunate enough that the Grateful Dead audience is all about hoping for how good of an improv you can get. And they love the songs. They're excellent and they're timeless.
It's like Grateful Dead music as repertoire.
Yeah, and their master repertoire list had grown to over 400 songs by the time Jerry died.
What can you tell me about Further?
[Laughs.] I really can't tell you anything. It's just polite to let Bob and Phil talk first. And they haven't.
First Published November 12, 2009 12:00 am