An unfortunate but well understood fact of life for the contemporary Deadhead is the ubiquity of piss-poor cover bands. There are many categories into which these imposters may fit. On one side of the spectrum you’ve got your well-meaning long-hairs. Troupes of patchouli drenched neo-hipsters convening in moldy garages, stoning themselves into smiley oblivion, noodling through limp-wristed takes on “Fire on the Mountain”, “The Other One”, “I Know You Rider,” etc. Then, more sinister, are the capitalist-minded poseur types. Those nine to five-ers who’d love nothing more than to cash in on the upcoming generation of post-Jerry heads.
In short, covering the Grateful Dead’s music is not to be taken lightly. For many, these tunes are a religion. And the concert hall is the church. Although they may each tell it a bit differently, real devotees will all attest: there is a tangible magic that occurs at such gatherings. The band is the facilitator, the music is the vessel, and dancing is the act of communion. This is something that cannot possibly be faked. For a band whose live-music archive is more circulated than any other group in history, there are just too many experienced listeners.
Luckily, there is light, in the form of the Dark Star Orchestra. These guys sound less like a cover-band than a revitalized, fountain-of-youth-dipped version of the original lineup. The vibe is absolutely authentic. And there is a reason for this. The band selects a particular show, studies the set-list, and replicates the event as truthfully as possible. Thus, attending a Dark Star orchestration is much like taking a ride on a time machine. A ticket to this show buys you a trip into the purportedly vanished, psychedelic realm of ’60s and ’70s San Francisco.
Once upon a time, vigorously endorsing some Led Zepplin impersonators, slamming his fist down on the healthily lacquered hard-wood, a drunken bar-mate proclaimed: “Close your eyes and it is Led-fucking-Zepplin.” Dark Star Orchestra takes the fanaticism of this concept a step further—there is no need to close your eyes, the band even looks like the Grateful Dead.
On Wednesday, the faithful will be digging these guys in the Jefferson’s intimate setting. That’s where things’ll be shaking—no poking around necessary. —Eric Wallace
Wednesday 11/28 Dark Star Orchestra/The Jefferson Theater