Dead on — Dark Star Orchestra brings back time

Dark Star Orchestra

Dark Star Orchestra stands up and plays Dead at Lake Tahoe.
Tahoe Onstage images by Clare Foster

It was a deadly night at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe on Sunday, April 10.

Grateful Dead tribute band Dark Star Orchestra brought out the deadheads, playing one of the iconic jam bands sets from May 11, 1986, in Frost Amphitheater in Palo Alto and cramming the South Shore Room in the process.

The run-up to the show felt very much like a re-enactment of a classic Grateful Dead environment. Tie-dye and dreadlocks were abundant. There were more than a few fanny packs, and myriad exotic aromas filled the air.

A zesty cheer went up as the lights went down in the auditorium. DSO took the stage a moment later, one of the musicians joking, “We like to do it with the lights off.”

I don’t know that that opening line was part of the original Grateful Dead concert that DSO was recreating, but the rest of the show was perfectly on script. These guys have the Dead down to an art; Jerry’s guitar tones are perfectly recreated, and the vocals sound just like the Dead. The two drummers authenticate both the sound and the stage appearance, and the grooving organ should make any Dead fan feel right at home. The frontmen even bear a marked resemblance to Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia.

The show started with “Gimme Some Lovin’,” immediately getting the audience moving with the tune’s stomping beat and wailing organ. Within a few minutes, the South Shore room was packed, far more crowded than I would have expected on an early April Sunday. Tahoe loves its music enough to get a crowd out just about any night of the week, and a near-perfect replica of one of California’s most beloved bands will definitely do the trick.

DSO moved to “Dancin’ in the Streets” and then “It Must Have Been the Roses,” slowing things down a bit for the gyrating crowd, the stage bathed in soft red light, reminiscent of a rose’s hue. The lights were done well, with paisley mosaics, multicolored swirls, and any number of other effects that were no doubt highly pleasing to concertgoers embracing the entirety of the Deadhead lifestyle that night.

“Cassidy” came out, and then “Might as Well” (one of my favorites), just before the band took a break. DSO returned with a swirl of organ and a shuffling roll of the drums, breaking into “Samson and Delilah” to kick off the second half of the show. The performance took me back to my first time hearing “Terrapin Station,” Christmas Day 2009 (my parents can always be relied upon for an iconic album under the tree). I had been raised on “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty;” “Terrapin Station” felt like disco to me at first, but the album grew on me, needless to say. Before I knew it, the rippling, psychedelic beat of “Crazy Finger” pulled me from my reminiscent reverie, and back into moving my feet.

DSO played an excellent show at Harrah’s, as I imagine it does at just about every venue in which it appears. It was a step back in time (to a year before I was born), providing an eager South Shore crowd with a spot-on recreation of one of the top performing acts of all time. Not a bad way to spend a “shoulder season” Sunday night.

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About Josh Sweigert

Josh grew up on the California coast with a deep appreciation for bluegrass and string band music as well as the great outdoors. A guitarist and singer, he plays solo acoustic gigs in South Lake Tahoe.

One comment

  1. They made the “we like it with the lights off ” comment because the last 3 shows in Berkley had to leave the lights on per the Fire Marshall as the smoke detectors weren’t working.

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