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Wednesday, February 12

Review and Photos: Dark Star Orchestra - First Avenue - Minneapolis, MN - 1/29/14



We got in just a little bit late and missed Greatest Story Ever Told.  I guess we didn’t expect them to start at 8pm sharp, but they really came to play.  It felt like they really wanted to give us a good one to start their tour, even though it was starting in a Polar Vortex.  Cold Rain & Snow was what we came out of and walked in to hear, and things got warmed up in a big hurry with a building guitar-keys jam that was a highlight of the first set.  Like a lot of dorks, we were trying to figure out when they were pulling their setlist from, and Wang Dang Doodle had us thinking early 80’s – but with Lisa playing the harmonica.  Big Railroad Blues turned into another big crescendo jam that built with layer upon layer of keys and guitars.  Hey Pocky Way really had some intensity to it and then Bobby McGee really had us doubting our era.  Loose Lucy sounded great but wasn’t played between the break in 1975 until it resurfaced in 1990 so I started thinking it might be an original setlist.  It turns out that the new bass player, Skip Vangelas doesn’t seem to have the chops.  Ironically, he has a voice reminiscent of Phil, too.  When he sang Tom Thumb’s Blues for us and dropped in some creative lyrical changes it was clear he was having a lot of fun.  During Lazy Lightning > Supplication he really dropped some bombs on us that had First Ave shaking.  We all took the GOOD with the no-so-good. The first set wrapped up with Reuben & Cherise, and once again the jam just kept building until it nearly turned into a headbanger.  Yeah, Reuben & Cherise.  Did I mention that they came to play?  If not for some big pauses between songs, this set would have had the energy of a freight train.  

After a frigid setbreak in the Minneapolis winter, things kicked off with Feel Like A Stranger.  The crowd really responded to the “you know it’s gonna get stranger, so let’s get on with the show” line, and the outro jam turned into a monster.  When they started I’ll Take A Melody we knew for sure that DSO was playing their own setlist for the night and going pretty deep in the repertoire.  There was a surprising power behind Man Smart, Woman Smarter that really made it move.  When they started in with Scarlet Begonias everyone got excited, and the climax jam in Fire was tremendous.  I haven’t seen DSO too many times but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them take a Drums jam and let the rhythm go entirely as it turned into Space, expertly working the synth sounds to hold everyone’s attention.  They came out of it in late-60’s fashion into a sweet Alligator that featured a bit of a vocal jam.  Going Down The Road Feeling Bad was a rowdy rollicking good time and China Doll finally gave us a chance to breathe.  The Sugar Magnolia closer got pretty wound up and finished the second set with smiles all around.  They came back just after midnight to confirm that it was their own setlist and then encored with The Weight.
The whole show lasted just over 4 hours and set a pretty high bar considering it’s a tour opener.  With that much time I kind of expected them to find a GD setlist that would work but I certainly wasn’t disappointed with this show.  Everyone’s voices were spot-on, the instruments sounded just how you’d expect and the song selection was full of rarities and things that most of us never got to see live.  Whatever your thoughts are on a tribute band or cover band or whatever else you want to call it, they certainly put everything that they’ve got into their show and they really make it special, and this lets them really connect with the crowd and feed off of that energy.  
If Dark Star Orchestra is coming near you on this tour, it’s absolutely worth seeing – and for a lot more than just reliving some of your favorite nostalgia moments with some Grateful Dead covers.  
Set 1 - 8pm
Greatest Story Ever Told
Cold Rain & Snow 
Wang Dang Doodle 
Big Railroad Blues 
Hey Pocky Way 
Bobby McGee
Loose Lucy
Tom Thumb’s Blues 
Lazy Lightning > Supplication 
Reuben & Cherise 
9:24

Set 2 - 10:03
Feel Like A Stranger 
I’ll Take A Melody 
Man Smart, Woman Smarter 
Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain 
Drums > Space
Alligator 
Going Down The Road Feeling Bad
China Doll
Sugar Magnolia
11:59

Encore - 12:01-12:07
The Weight
Words:Ross Blanshan
Photos: Chris Shaffner
 ©Grateful Music LLC