Monday, November 25, 2013

DSO Warms Up Concord

You've got to hand it to Dark Star Orchestra for touring as much as they do and consistently putting on vastly enjoyable shows.  In fact, part of the fun of seeing them is seeing how much everyone else there is enjoying themselves.  This November they didn't come very close to Boston, but they played in a few small towns in the hinterlands of New England, like Burlington VT, Portland ME, and Concord NH. :)

We thought about seeing them in Northampton or in Portland, but because of several factors (like we were busy last night), we settled for just seeing them in Concord on this Fall tour at the friendly and graceful Capital Center For the Arts on November 24th.  It was one of those frigid Fall days in New England when the stiff Northwest wind makes you suddenly realize that winter is much closer than you think.  There was snow and ice on the ground in Concord, but the town was rocking on a Sunday night, the Center For the Arts opened their doors early so we wouldn't have to wait outside, and we chattered eagerly with other devotees waiting in line for General Admission.

Most of the people there early (25-30 of us??) were middle aged or older, though lots of younger people showed up later.  They opened the doors and we rushed in; most people grabbed the first row in the orchestra or the first row in the balcony, but we weighed our options a bit more and took the best seats in the third row of the orchestra, figuring that the space between the stage and the first row would become a mosh pit of stage-rushers later in the evening, which turned out to be very correct (note here that I have to hand it to the incredibly-patient-with-obnoxious-deadheads security, who were trying to keep the aisles reasonably clear and keep everyone happy at the same time).  These were great seats.

The band was set up with two drum kits and with the lead guitar over by the keyboards to the right side, with the bass (Skip Vangelas (with an Alembic bass) took the bass chair that Kevin Rosen had filled so well for so long) on the far left.  Between RobE and Skip was the mike that Lisa would take, with a low stand as well, like she was going to play a banjo or something ... this was never used so I'm still waiting.

The crowd took their time arriving but ultimately packed the place.  DSO took their time but then started up at 7:10 or so with a rocking Touch Of Grey.  Instantly my wishes for an early '70s or late 60's show were dashed, but WTF, we were off!!  Here's the first set:

Touch Of Grey > Greatest Story Ever Told; Iko Iko; Queen Jane Approximately; Catfish John; Mister Charlie; From the Heart Of Me; Mama Tried > Mexicali Blues; Big Railroad Blues; Let It Grow

It was obvious early that this was an original setlist, and then Catfish John clinched it.  But no one was disappointed, they did an excellent job on every note of these songs and we all sang along and danced and danced.  There's some real skill in the band, but all of the players had their so-so moments, including Skip playing it safe in a few situations when he needed to stand out.  But they are so much fun!  How often do you get a chance to croon along with "... don't go near that river," to bop wildly to Mr. Charlie, to roll along with your flagboy and my flagboy, and to get a fucking cowboy troika, all in one set?  And that's not to mention the incongruously popular Lisa (I love her, as does everybody I know) taking a spin on Donna's The Heart Of Me.

RobE finished with a perfunctory Let It Grow, and then they all mumbled off for a break while we grinned and grinned.  Short bathroom lines, long beer lines, many people stepping outside (but not far in that cold) for a smoke, with the smell of it wafting in the front doors, a few people checking on the Patriots score on their phones, and then we all got back just in time for the lights dimming for the second set.

I'd been texting the setlist to Dave and he predicted Drums and Space for the second set.  He was right, but this was no loose jam introducing a sloppy second set.  This was a whole night of precision.  Rob waited until Jeff had played the lead riff three times, and then started picking the Bobby part of China Cat, and they did not stop for a while.  Here's the list:

China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider; Samson And Delilah; He's Gone > The Other One > Drums > Space > The Other One > Visions Of Johanna > Let It Rock

  • This was an ideal China Rider; they were not trying to replicate the Dead sound of a particular year, they were trying to play these songs with the spirit they deserve and did so; and the crowd was absolutely bellowing on the "wild geese in the West" and "wish I was a headlight" highlights of Rider (Skip knew not to back off the bombs here).
  • The drummers shone on Samson, and Lisa did some great vocals backing up Rob; again, this was not a mimic of Donna and Bob, but the two of them singing for all they were worth.
  • He's Gone continued the pace, and then it got good and weird and fantastic; as before, it was clear to some of us that they were playing TOO about five minutes before the signature bass notes and to all after that, but this time they then proceeded to jam and jam.  Finally Rob stepped up and sang a verse with Lisa (and all of us) jumping up and down while screaming "coming around."  Then it got weirder.
  • I'd never before this night seen Dino channel Billy so well and RobK channel Mickey so well.  Dino did not leave his traps, whanging the kick and the high-hat while rolling on his toms.  Rob got up and went to the back of their set-up, where he sampled himself on congas, put it through some odd filters, and then took off from there.  Soon we had no idea where all those sounds were coming from, and we realized we'd been enthralled for 10 minutes of this ... and then the guys came out and played space.
  • And then they went back into TOO.  This was fantastic, a truly uplifting, riveting, thrilling sonic experience.  Lisa came back out and if you think we were all jumping up and down before, I think New Hampshire is still shaking from that second verse.
  • Jeff then sang a beautiful cover of Visions Of Johanna for a wind-down song.  This was a very good vocal and was one of the artistic highlights of the night.
  • And then they did what's rapidly becoming DSO's signature show capper, Let It Rock.  I think there are still some fans to whom this song is not as familiar as a song like Saturday Night or Around and Around, but this is DSO's song.

Ack!!!  They shuffled off again and we all were laughing and raving about what we'd just seen.  That TOO was incredible!  Why the heck did they set up their teepee on the tracks in the first place?!?   They came back out and RobB told us that of course we'd been listening to an "elective" set.  He then looked around slyly at the other guys ... what would it be for an encore??  Scarlet Begonias!  No Fire this time, but they did Scarlet perfectly and closed with the tight Mars Hotel ending to the song.  What a night!!

Skip came out afterwards and high-fived fans left and right.  He gave me the thumbs-up.  We made it out into the cold and found our car down frigid South Main Street in Concord.  Luckily the wind had died down a bit and it was a smooth drive back home, making it door to door in a bit under an hour.

1 comment:

  1. Lisa used that second mic for her harmonica playing on Let it Rock, extended to its proper height, of course.