Why I Go See Dark Star Orchestra in Buffalo for Two Sold Out Shows: Town Ballroom, Buffalo, November 16th

Dark Star Orchestera pulled into Buffalo to kick off the “US” portion of their Fall Tour, after kicking the tour off the night before in Toronto, amazingly their first gig in Cananda after 2,100 or so shows. I was excited to see the band chose Buffalo to  sort of kick the tour off, especially with two nights. It was not surprising as Buffalo always seems to support this traveling recreation we affectionately know as “DSO” and these Sold Out shows were no exception.

Town Ballroom was a favorite venue of mine when it was converted into a full time concert venue in 2005, but not long after it turned into one of my least favorite places to record shows as we are always porched way back behind the board in an already muddy sounding room it often made for average tapes at best regardless of the gear or Jedi tactics to pull a good recording. Thankfully a couple weeks before the show, one of our friendly local community Deadheads, Pay Logan, got in touch with a VIP ticket for me. This proved for me to be the game changer in getting a great recording as opposed to the mud I have become accustomed to in the “official” tapers section. I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to Artie Kwitchoff, owner of the Town Ballroom and decorated Buffalo area concert promoter who installed a new house PA system that really flourished on this evening, and does with this type of Rock music. The low end was as good as I’ve heard it, and my location coupled with this new PA made for easily my finest recording of several at the Ballroom. Thanks Artie for the new PA, and outstanding VIP access!

The boys took the stage around 9:15 to a raucous crowd that was ready to dance. It was easy to guess an original setlist with two drum stage setup, Lisa Mackey walking out to open the show and bassist Kevin Rosen tuning up the vintage Gibson style four-string bass. Although I am a big fan of the six-string Modulus, I was thrilled to see this instrument choice and from the sound of the tuning, I knew it would bring a raw edgy early 70’s Phil Lesh sound to the show. This was a bittersweet show for me knowing all the folks were on the other side of the state in the midst of a 10-show Phil Lesh run between three NYC area venues. I often kid some of my old school jaded Deadhead friends who often will snub DSO or any cover band. While there’s no replacement for seeing the real band members even when they’re past their prime, there is something for me about seeing DSO and how that make me feel at each show.

I see DSO because they recreate the music how I like to hear it and they do it so incredibly well.  The show kicked off with a punch of “Half Step”, with a really nice extended “Rio Grande” finale. The tune surpassed 11 minutes and was a the perfect choice to get this amped crowd dancing and singing (the latter not good for recordings!). “Stranger” kept the pace and gave the show a real ’89 feel although we knew we could be in for anything with the original setlist setup, no warm up was necessary. The first two tunes proved the band was sharp right out of the gate. The first feel good surprise was next with “Unbroken Chain”, and even more a surprise seeing Rob take the vocals. Not sure when Kevin turned Phil vocal duties over to Rob or if this was a one off. A solid run through and always bittersweet as I was denied mail order for the 3/19/95 Spectrum bust out of “Unbroken Chain”. First set Jerry Band tunes are always a welcome addition to any DSO original setlist show and “Run For The Roses” did not disappoint. This playful tune took us into a cowboy Rolling Stones like version of “It’s All Over Now”. The “Candyman” that followed featured some incredible work by Rob Eaton. He is example number one of why I go see Dark Star Orchestra: the structuring of the song by Eaton is pure Weir form is nothing short of stunning. Every lick and shape shaped the song perfectly and was played with great passion and sheer brilliance; it made for such an enjoyable watch and listen.

“BIODTL” followed, then the next surprise of the night came with Lisa Mackey setting up her lyric stand for Bob Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom”. Baracco had us wondering as he asked the audience if they like Bob Dylan songs before the tune, which would lead one to think of any number of tunes. “Visions of Johanna” came to mind, but alas it was not to be. “Chimes of Freedom” was a fine choice and it was a pleasure seeing Lisa get to take a lead. This took us to the number two reason I go see Dark Star Orchestera: the element of surprise, much to do with them being able to write our dream setlists on any given night and execute them with brilliance. This “Bird Song>Let it Grow>Bird Song” was easily one of several highlights of the show. No one saw it coming, but it transitioned beautifully. Mattson was in fine singing and playing form on “Bird Song”, and “Let it Grow” emerged strong out of the spacey improvisation of “Bird Song”, then a sweet reprise to wrap up the set.

While I was hoping for a “Scarlet>Fire” to open set two, “China>Rider” was greeted by the audience with a warm welcome eruption. The third reason I go see Dark Star Orchestra is “the useless smile”, tough to find in those moments when seeing members of the Grateful Dead in their current forms. We chased those moments for so long, those peaks, those musical moments of pure bliss where you were transported to that place that had you on such a level, nothing could replicate it. This is what I am after. When Jeff Mattson hit the “Northbound Train” line in “I Know You Rider”, a chill went through my body from my cheeks down to my toes. What a great moment. The show trudged on with the Buffalo staple “Truckin” which led into an highly charged “Terrapin Station”. The “Drums” portion of the show seemed extended but was very interesting, and the remainder of set two kept pace with a full rendition of “Hey Jude” into “Uncle John’s Band”, “Standing on the Moon”, and the set closer and second JGB track of the night, “Tangled Up In Blue”.

Great high energy Mattson/Eaton finish to the show with playful teases by Eaton of “China Cat” and Mattson with a brief “St. Stephen” tease. The show finished with another Baracco lead tune, “Box of Rain”, the perfect cap to another wonderful evening with Dark Star Orchestra.

Check out Lenny’s website and download Lenny’s recording of the show.