The Grateful Dead are done and gone, but that doesn’t mean someone shouldn’t sing their songs. This mentality is exactly why The Dark Star Orchestra has built such a dedicated following.
The crowd at their show Friday was varied. Hippie types with long hair mixed with teenagers and students, but there were also a variety of professionals wearing weekend clothes. Tie-dye and flannel were out in full force at The Fillmore Auditorium in downtown Denver. The smell of marijuana and body odor permeated throughout the venue, a smell that seemed right at home among some of the concerts’ longer haired patrons.
Formed in Chicago in 1997, Dark Star Orchestra is a cover band intent on keeping live Grateful Dead shows more than just a thing of the past. Smoke floated up behind them as an assortment of colorful lights shined down, creating an array of dancing colored cones.
The band is comprised of seven members: John Kadlecik on lead guitar, Rob Eaton on rhythm guitar, Kevin Rosen on bass, Rob Koritz and Dino English on drums and percussion and Rob Barraco plays the keys. Kadlecik, Eaton, Rosen, and Barraco all contribute vocals. A seventh vocalist, Lisa Mackey, is listed as a member of the band but was not seen on stage.
Kadlecik and Eaton on their respective guitars shared the front stage with Rosen and Barraco, while English and Koritz were playing percussion. They worked off of one another, creating elaborate, steady beats.
The two guitarists alternated the vocals, and sometimes sang impressively acute harmonies. Kadlecik spoke with a notable twang and as he sang improvised melodies in major keys. This gave the band that certain sound showing loyalty to the Grateful Dead.
The harmonies were impressive and the bluesy-folk sounds of the lead singers added a nice dimension to the music. But it seemed to be the times the band didn’t sing that the crowd became truly lost in the music.
Chris Shields, a junior political science major, said he found Dark Star to be a fun band to see live.
“There is a lot of positive energy in the show,” Shields said. “I have never gone to a show and had a bad time.”
A “Scarlet Begonias” and “Fire on the Mountain” medley was one of the highlights of the night. Combining the two songs is a signature move of the Grateful Dead that left the crowd bouncing up and down with the sounds of the bass. The band built up and broke down the intensity masterfully while seamlessly switching from one song to the other.
Chrissy Kempf, a sophomore integrative physiology major, is a veteran Dark Star fan.
“Dark Star is the best Grateful Dead cover band today,” Kempf said.
She said she listens to Dark Star because the Grateful Dead’s main man is no longer around.
“Jerry Garcia is dead, so I’ll listen to [DSO] now,” Kempf said.
Jerry Garcia, the former lead guitarist of the Grateful Dead, was at the Fillmore in spirit, watching the show from one of the many T-shirts with his face on it. A lot of the crowd was sporting tie-dyed shirts embellished with the emblematic red and blue circle split in half by a white bolt of lightning on the top of a cartoon skull, the Dead’s iconic logo.
With so many Grateful Dead fans in attendance, the question that comes up is what is it that the Dark Star Orchestra does?
Koritz, one of the two drummers for Dark Star, explained Dark Star’s role in the Grateful Dead’s history.
“Primarily what we do is we recreate actual shows,” Koritz said. “We’ll take a set list from the Dead’s history. Each night we’ll do a different one.”
In true Deadhead fashion, some of the older members of the crowd who were aware of Dark Star’s routine tried to guess what year the set was from.
Dark Star said they go to great lengths to ensure the authenticity of their shows.
“We try to use the right equipment to get the right tones, and stuff like that,” Koritz said.
And they do so with impressive accuracy. The sounds that came off the stage were staggeringly reminiscent of the sounds that can be heard on recordings the Grateful Dead’s live shows.
“We have the privilege of helping keep the Grateful Dead’s music alive, and just turning on new fans to it,” Koritz said.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Seth Gitner at Seth.email@example.com.