Deadheads in southeast Michigan had cause for celebration last night as Dark Star Orchestra returned to the Motor City. Known for replicating Grateful Dead shows, the premier tribute band has played over 2,000 shows – nearing that of the Dead themselves – in their tenure of nearly fifteen years. Before the band took the stage promptly at nine o’clock, the audience could already guess at the Grateful Dead set list that would be played. With only a single drum kit on stage, diehard fans knew that it could only be from the era in which the band played sans Mickey Hart. Opening up with Promised Land, it seemed that neither the band nor the audience was really ready for the show to begin as energy seemed in short supply from both sides of the proscenium. A sweet Sugaree followed bringing with her grins from fans and the start of the party. And from then it was just one fan favorite after another, save perhaps for the Donna Jean song You Ain’t Woman Enough, which was sung more than capably by the ever-vibrant Lisa Mackey.
As the lead flowed Jeff Mattson’s Fender, and Rob Eaton sang Looks Like Rain numerous (obviously first time DSO) audience members could be heard exclaiming how incredibly faithful every detail was to the original. And what made it all the more authentic was the diversity in ages and backgrounds of the crowd – from the teen aged dreadies to the 60-plus bikers, to the middle aged wasted guy with his tie-dyed t-shirt tucked in to his belted jeans – this was a crowd that loved the music of the Dead and the Promised Land had found them. And to cap it off, it was clear that this was truly a family affair as parents and kids danced, old friends hugged and laughed, and everyone let their bodies move with the music. That characterizes the whole show – it’s difficult to pick out any single song or solo, from Mattson’s intricate fills in El Paso or bassist Kevin Rosen’s intense heavy lines on The Other One, or keyboard player Rob Barraco’s sweet playing in Eyes Of The World, it was the next best thing to a time machine.