To make it 20 years in any industry is quite a feat, especially when there were absolutely no expectations at the beginning. And the members of Dark Star Orchestra will tell you that making it that far as a cover band is even more satisfying and special.
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On Saturday night at the Palace Theater in Albany, Dark Star brought a raucous show to a sold out and chock full of energy crowd on the 20th anniversary of their first show, which was performed at a bar called Martyrs’ in Chicago. There were people outside who were unable to get in the door due to the sell out. One concert goer, on his way through security, looked over and yelled, “This is reminiscent of when the Dead used to play the Knick!” He was referring to the Knickerbocker Arena, now called the Times Union Center.
From the get go, Dark Star displayed the type of energy that an eager new band 20 years younger might. Guitarist Rob Eaton stepped to his microphone for “The Music Never Stopped,” clearly a nod to their longevity. The Grateful Dead’s most commercially successful song, “Tough of Grey,” came next. When the band members, in unison with the crowd, sang the last lines of “We will get by / We will survive,” the balcony in the theater was visibly swaying. It was as thrilling a start to any Dark Star show in memory.
“Box of Rain,” one of Phil Lesh’s compositions, wound down before the Jerry Garcia ballad “So Many Roads,” sung by guitarist Jeff Mattson, brought a bit of poignancy to the evening. “Cassidy” was played perfectly and featured some very spirited body language from Eaton, who was moving around his area of the stage more than usual.
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The highlight of the set was, easily, “Terrapin Station,” a song typically reserved by both Dark Star and the Dead for the second set. Keyboardist Rob Barraco and drummers Rob Koritz and Dino English seemed to have a more powerful presence during this song as Dark Star executed the composition flawlessly.
The set could have ended there and the crowd would have been happy, and that’s when the first notes to “Weather Report Suite” hit. The song fizzled into “Let it Grow,” and during the pair of songs, Eaton switched from electric to acoustic and back to electric without missing a beat. To close out a lengthy set, Dark Star Orchestra played the classic sequence of “China Cat Sunflower“->”I Know You Rider.” The bridge between the two songs took the form of pure celebration and the band showed it with gigantic smiles on their faces.
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The second stanza wasted not even a second picking up, with a fast and raging “Scarlet Begonias” jamming its way into “Ruben and Cherise” in a pretty stunning twist of events. When the crowd realized that Dark Star had thrown a curve ball, it responded with a roar and a total dance party ensued. Mattson, like he would do the rest of the set, dazzled with his vocals and ripping runs up and down the fret board. “Fire on the Mountain” closed out the segment with a singalong amidst a trio of jams.
“Eyes of the World” morphed into the “Drums/Space” portion of the evening before Mattson returned to the mic for a soaring and emotional “Morning Dew.” Without taking a breath, the band started into the fan favorite “St. Stephen,” but what came next was the best part of the show, as “Stephen” gave way to the familiar riff of “The Eleven.” That seemed to take the crowd by surprise again, and the band responded by putting extra ‘umph’ into the psychedelic journey about William Tell. “Turn on Your Love Light” closed out one of the most well received Dark Star shows in memory.
Koritz then took center stage and thanked a list of people who have helped Dark Star Orchestra on their way to this night, and then toasted with the crowd, before getting the band together with their backs to the crowd and inviting everyone to take a selfie with them to celebrate 20 special years. Approaching the midnight curfew, the band then launched into “One More Saturday Night” to give the frenzied crowd one last breakdown for which to dance.
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Dark Star Orchestra, Palace Theater, Albany, NY, 11/11/2017
Set 1: The Music Never Stopped, Touch of Grey, Box of Rain, So Many Roads, Cassidy, Terrapin Station, Weather Report Suite>Let it Grow, China Cat Sunflower->I Know You Rider
Set 2: Scarlet Begonias->Ruben and Cherise>Fire on the Mountain, Eyes of the World, Drums/Space, Morning Dew, St. Stephen->The Eleven, Turn on Your Love Light
Encore: Band addresses crowd and takes a celebratory selfie, One More Saturday Night
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