Dark Star Orchestra at Penn’s Peak

Dark Star Orchestra - 5.8.15 (13)

 

 

Dark Star Orchestra

Penn’s Peak

Jim Thorpe, PA

5/8/15

 

 

 

 

With excitement growing for the celebration of 50 years of The Grateful Dead this summer in Chicago and Santa Clara, magic is filling the air with a number of groups paying homage to the legends.  Formed in 1997 in Chicago, Dark Star Orchestra has been taking the idea of homage to the next level as they have made their name by recreating full shows performed by the legendary San Francisco band. Dark Star Orchestra brought their unique ability and unmatched Dead spirit to the mountains of Northeast Pennsylvania and Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe, PA.

 

As fans filtered into the venue from the parking lot, the band settled in and started right into the first set opener, “Bertha.”  This was the perfect way to start off the group’s two night stint at the historic venue. The crowd was buzzing with excitement as they sang every word to the opening number.  The quintet didn’t miss a beat with the upbeat version of “Mexicali Blues,” that followed.  Slowing down the set was a stellar version of “Loser,” which was led by Jeff Mattson on guitar and vocals.  The beauty of Dark Star Orchestra’s performance is they have studied The Grateful Dead so closely that if you close your eyes you feel like you are back with the original members.  Drummer Dino English started out a nice introduction to “They Love Each Other” which gave guitarist Mattson a few moments to show his guitar skills.  As Mattson’s fingers flowed across the strings of his guitar the crowd was fixated on every note that rang out.

 

As long time “Deadheads” were searching through set lists to see if they could pinpoint which year Dark Star Orchestra was performing, vocalist Lisa  Mackey joined the group onstage to perform a cheerful version of “Beat It On Down The Line” with had the crowd bouncing around Penn’s Peak grinning ear to ear.  Rob Barraco, sporting his usual purple bandana, shone on keys through the song.  The piano virtuoso went back and forth on the keyboards performing a flawless solo that got everyone in the band smiling.  As the band launched into a superb version of “Row Jimmy” you could feel the emotion flowing out of Mattson’s voice.  About an hour into the performance you could Dark Star Orchestra - 5.8.15 (4)see that the crowd and the band were feeding off each other’s energy.  The band was firing on all cylinders this evening and the first set closer was no exception.  “Greatest Story Ever Told” gave each band member a chance to solo and really show why they are one of the greatest Grateful Dead projects to perform today.  The set closed with fan favorite “China Cat Sunflower” and its usual musical partner, “I Know You Rider,” that flowed seamlessly into “Around and Around.”

 

At set break many in the crowd began the guessing game as to what show Dark Star was recreating on this night.  As the opening notes of “Ramble on Rose” graced Penn’s Peak, my buddy turned to me and said “I figured out what the date is. We’re in for a treat this second set.”  He was exactly right with his guess (12/6/73 for those keeping score).  The group kept the energy up as they executed a classic rendition of “Me & My Uncle.”  The beauty of Dark Star Orchestra is how they bring people of all ages together just like The Grateful Dead did for thirty-plus years.  As the group transitioned into a eleven minute version of “Here Comes Sunshine,” concert goers were dancing freely in the aisles of the wooden historic concert hall.

 

The band got loose and stretched their musical legs on the next number, a thirty-three minute version of the Grateful Dead classic “Dark Star,” that allowed the group to really explore their instrumental side.  As guitarists Rob Eaton and Mattson laid down the spacey guitar licks, Vangelas contributed some deep bass grooves.  Drummer English set the tone nicely with his unique style of drumming and you could tell that Barraco was in his glory tickling the ivories on the edge of the stage.  The seamless transition into “Eyes Of The World” was magical to say the least.  Every voice in the audience sang with the band “Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world!”  The second set closed out with a mellow rendition of “Stella Blue” followed by an energized “Sugar Magnolia” that gave Eaton a chance to channel Bob Weir perfectly.  The band retook the stage for their encore to hoots and hollers and concluded the night with the Smokey Robinson & the Miracles classic, “I Second That Emotion.”

 

 

12/6/73 – Public Hall, Cleveland, OH

Set One:

Bertha

Mexicali Blues

Loser

Black Throated Wind

They Love Each Other

Beat It On Down The Line

Deal

El Paso

Row Jimmy

Greatest Story Ever Told

China Cat Sunflower >

I Know You Rider

Around And Around

 

Set Two:

Ramble On Rose

Me and My Uncle

Here Comes Sunshine

Big River

Dark Star >

Eyes of The World >

Stella Blue

Sugar Magnolia

 

Encore:

I Second That Emotion