I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, going to see Dark Star Orchestra is wonderful fun! We’ve been to see them every time they’ve come to the Northeast over the past few years and this time they were playing in the big old Lowell Memorial Auditorium, Saturday December 6th.
We met Scott and Michelle at a just-opened bar in Lowell on a rainy evening after the first place we tried to meet was found to be packed. Things were going on in Lowell that night (Riverhawks game?), and it was bustling. After a quick burger we took off for the Auditorium, only to find that our print-at-home tickets had to be exchanged at the box office for “real” tickets instead of actually letting us in the door. They need to join the 21st century.
Only missed the first few bars of the opening song though by the time we got in the third-full hall: “Well, well, well, you can never tell.” They had taken all the seats from the floor, which was not what I’d been expecting. But this meant that Dave and I could sidle up towards the stage (especially since the place was just beginning to fill up), while the three shorter people were content to stand behind the few rows of mezzanine seats.
The question at DSO shows is always what Dead/Garcia show are they reproducing … or are they doing an elective set? Shakedown Street instantly knocked the early 70s (and 60s) out of contention (we’d been hoping for a 1974 show), but the rest of the first set was very satisfactory and by the end of it we had it narrowed down to later ’78 or (very) early ’79. This was definitely Shakedown Street era:
- Shakedown Street
- Me and My Uncle >
- Big River
- Beat It On Down the Line
- Stagger Lee
- New Minglewood Blues
- Brown-Eyed Women
- From the Heart Of Me
- I Need a Miracle
The downstairs part of the Auditorium was filled by this point, and the balcony (that they opened at some point) was about half full. Their bathrooms weren’t quite as funky as at the Capitol Theater, but were not modern! There was some speculation as to the show in the men’s room and at the beer line, though several people I talked to called From the Heart Of Me, “France.” Donna gets no respect from some people, even though Lisa had done a fine job with her best song.
Skip was playing that loping bass style from the late 70s, RobE was frailing away at the rhythm guitar like his life depended on it, and Jeff was almost literally exploding above everything when it came time to take the lead. RobK and Dino were pounding the drums in incredible synchronization; they might have been my favorite part of the show except for RobB, who was just a delight. He stuck to the electric piano, but played it with such panache and color it’s hard to believe that even on a good night, that the 1978/79 Keith could have come close.
Pretty long set break, but that had been a longer-than-expected first set. They lined up for the second set and we were still a bit unsure as to whether this was an elective or not. But then I called Scarlet and they ripped into that, and the rest of the set clinched the era:
- Scarlet Begonias >
- Fire On the Mountain
- Estimated Prophet >
- Eyes Of the World >
- Drums >
- Jam >
- Not Fade Away >
- Black Peter >
- Around and Around >
- Good Lovin’
This was great stuff, such fun! Dave and I were back on the floor for the second set after visiting with the others at the break, and we got up to the fifth row or so from the stage, right in front of Skip (they were lined up with Jeff, RobE, Lisa, Skip, and RobB from left to right, true to that time period).
There’d been some pot-smoking on the floor during the first set, but the second set was just amazing. It seemed like everyone around me had a pipe or pocket vaporizer out and the smoke almost obscured the stage a few times. And all of this indoors! Pretty extraordinary … and the most extraordinary thing about it was that I wasn’t knocked out by being around it.
The finished up with a crackling Good Lovin’ in the disco style, then came out soon for the encore. RobB revealed to us in that the show was New Haven Coliseum, 1979-01-17, and RobE added a personal note, that he was there and it was a rescheduling of one originally scheduled for the previous Fall which had been cancelled because of Garcia having pneumonia … Dave had gotten the right month! They then finished up with the proper encore, Casey Jones, and a filler of Sisters and Brothers (which the Dead never did, though the Garcia Band had of course).
What a rocking good time and what a great mellow song to send us off into the night!