Thursday, June 2, 2016

DSO Tea Party!

Dark Star Orchestra was due to cycle back to the Northeast this late Spring after their annual Dark Star Jubilee in Ohio.  The first stop on the tour was scheduled for Boston’s Wilbur Theater on June 1, with subsequent stops in Providence, Hampton Beach, etc.  Should we go, in light of all the money we’ve been spending on Dead-related things recently and the fact that we saw Phil & Friends twice a couple of months ago and will be seeing Dead & Company thrice in a few weeks??  How could we not go?!?  DSO is never less than incredible fun, but we limited ourselves to just the Boston show.

And it was as much fun as ever if not more so.

Met Sarah and Dave to park at their building after a longer than expected drive through thick Boston traffic, then hustled over to Wirth’s for the customary German dinner and couple of beers.  Wirth’s was probably as empty as I’ve ever seen it, even though everything else in Boston was going at full tilt on a sunny but brisk-for-June Wednesday evening.

Got into line at the Wilbur (we were second!?!  we’re used to being first), exchanged our Internet receipts for real tickets, and waited with the growing crowd of fanatics.  DSO has developed their own crowd at this point, that greatly overlaps with the traditional Deadhead crowd but also includes those who find Phil/Bobby/etc. shows too expensive and/or prefer the good times spun by DSO to the sometimes new and challenging music the Phil/Bobby/etc. shows can feature.  A surprising number of these people had been at the Jubilee in Ohio and planned to continue on to Providence, Hampton Beach, etc. with the tour.  There was also a lot of talking and enjoying the moment rather than the music during the show.  DSO concerts are just such mellow fun, and that’s very appealing.  Maybe the band members aren’t “as good” as the originals or “as creative,” but that’s not a reason not to see them, or for classical fans to stop seeing Beethoven cover bands.

We debated hanging back at the soundboard, especially since we might have to get out of there early/quickly for Dave to catch the last T to Quincy.  But anticipation built and when the time came we grabbed a spot right up front, at the stage in front of RobE’s guitar and just a few feet from RobB’s organ.

And wait a minute … it *was* just a B3 with no extra keyboards!  RobE and Skip’s guitars were old large-bodied Gibsons, Jeff’s guitar was a vintage, small black thing, there was no setup for a female singer, and the only drum accoutrement was a huge gong.  We suspected that we were in for a late-60s show!!  The lineup was vintage too, with Jeff far left (looking at the stage), Skip center, then RobE (where we were standing), and RobB.

The guys came out (Dave had a quick exchange with RobB, complimenting him on the recent Q shows, which Rob thanked him for), and proceeded to rip our ears off with the 1969-12-30 show from the Boston Tea Party.  This was a great treat of a show and they played it incredibly well, though Jeff sometimes seemed to want to mellow out instead of giving it the late-60s Garcia head-on attack.  Maybe not enough acid was the (slight) problem, but whatever, this was simply incredible!

  • Good Lovin'
  • Drums
  • Good Lovin'
  • Mama Tried
  • New Speedway Boogie
  • Casey Jones
  • Black Peter
  • Me and My Uncle
  • In the Midnight Hour
  • Cumberland Blues
  • Cryptical Envelopment
  • Drums
  • The Other One
  • Cryptical Envelopment
  • Cosmic Charlie

OK, maybe we weren’t actually seeing the Grateful Dead in a small club in Boston on the middle night of their New Year’s 1969 stand … but we had no problem pretending we were there and the band played the songs with a period flair.  These guys are great musicians and VERY experienced at what they do.

Good Lovin’ was an explosive start, and then they went right into the first drum solo of the night, with Dino (left) and RobK (right) thundering up a 60’s psychedelic beat.  The set was chock full of cowboy songs (some call this their “cosmic cowboy” period) and those were short, loud, and sweet.  RobE was fanning furiously right in front of us, a bolt of lightning running through Bobby’s incredible variety of chords and colors.

The “new” songs were done perfectly: Speedway, Casey Jones, Black Peter, and Cumberland were all in their infancy, raw and stunning.  Black Peter in particular fully realized the psychic, almost psychotic  fear of death and loneliness that it’s essentially about.

And they wouldn’t stop!  The setlist was awesome but Dave didn’t recognize it and we were beginning to think that maybe it was elective, especially since they were playing such a long first set that we began to think it would be the only one.  We thought Midnight Hour would be the end, but then they launched head over heels into Cumberland.  We thought that might be the end, but then they took a breath and Jeff started playing Cryptical!  Of course that led into a second drum solo of the night, then into a riveting, loud, 1969 TOO, and then back into Cryptical.  We thought that would be the end but then they started flying into the cosmos with Charlie!  OMG … they finally stopped and RobE announced a short break.

The crowd was pressing us in and we took turns going out for bathroom/beer/whatever breaks, while Dave did some quick research.  There it was, 1969-12-30, though Dave hid the bottom of the screen so he wouldn’t see the second set.

Before we knew it, the guys were gathering in the wings behind the organ again, yucking it up and strategizing a bit.  Then the lights went down and they came back out.  What could they do to top that first set?  How about this:

  • Uncle John's Band
  • Mason's Children
  • China Cat Sunflower
  • I Know You Rider
  • Dark Star
  • Alligator
  • Drums
  • The Eleven
  • Alligator
  • Feedback
  • And We Bid You Goodnight

Radical!  More new songs: UJB (9th performance) and Mason’s, but introducing some mature songs that had reached their primal Dead peak.

A highlight for me was RobE going nuts on China Cat, which he led faster and faster down the hill into Rider.  And what a beautiful, cosmic Dark Star, which exploded into a song I’d called earlier in the set, Alligator (sung by RobB, one of his only vocals of the night).  Dino stood up and scratched the güiro on Dark Star while RobK was all over the gong, almost hugging it while hitting it with mallets in each hand, or standing behind it and hitting it with one mallet while moving the mike behind it up and down to get an even spacier sound.  For Alligator, RobK grabbed the güiro while Dino went nuts on his traps.  And then they both started pounding away in unison during the instrumental break in Alligator and steered us headlong into the third drum solo of the night.  As I say, incredible, mind-bending stuff!

And then suddenly we were in 11 time, the guitarists were flailing away madly, and then Jeff told us that there was no more time to tell how.  And he wasn’t taking questions.  The guys gave it the old-style harmony on the choruses, Skip filling in with some excellent bass (though this harmonizing was far from perfect, if you felt like being critical).  Back to finish up Alligator, a healthy dose of Feedback, and then some more heartfelt, baroque harmonies on Bid You Goodnight, with the entire Wilbur singing along of course.  Amazing!

The guys left the stage for a short bit, but then came back out and RobK told us what we already knew, that we’d just been at the Boston Tea Party in ’69.  DSO does not cheat their audience at all and still had some more for us!  They set up a mike for Lisa (though she didn’t use it, she just stood back between the three Robs and played the harp), and they filled out the night with another Workingman’s song, Easy Wind, and then a beautiful Brokedown Palace (without Lisa, being 1969).

Being at the front, we could not leave immediately, and it’s a good thing because RobK crumpled up his setlist and threw it at me, a perfect shot!  I gave it to Dave.  We got out of there soon after that though, crossed through the busy theater district, and climbed quickly up to Beacon Hill.  No problems getting home and I was in bed around 1:00.  Jorma tonight!

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