SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. - Dark Star Orchestra jammed the night away at MontBleu Resort Casino and Spa Oct. 4, sonically transporting a grooving audience back to the heyday of San Francisco's beloved Grateful Dead. The Chicago -based tribute band filled the stage with the necessary arsenal of musical equipment, and the air with spot-on covers of timeless Dead hits.
Dark Star Orchestra replicated the classic jam band exceedingly well. While I am on the young side for a Dead fan (I can't in good conscience claim the moniker 'Dead-head'), and unfortunately never saw them live, I was impressed with Dark Star's sound after just a few songs. Whether swirling psychedelia, rock-infused folk jams, or soulful reggae rhythms, every tune sounded just like the original. From the two massive drum-sets occupying center stage, to Rob Eaton and Jeff Mattson's striking vocal and visual resemblances to Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia, every element that I saw did justice to the Grateful Dead's legendary stage presence.
DSO played an original Grateful Dead set-list from 1989, including classics like "Me and My Uncle," "Mexicali Blues," "Candyman," and "Fire on the Mountain." An appropriate feature was "Cold Rain and Snow," which had practically the entire audience up and dancing, even as the first storm of the season lashed the South Shore with, well, cold rain and snow. They closed the night out with a rousing encore of "Quinn the Eskimo."
While the MontBleu Theatre wasn't exactly packed, perhaps due to the weather or the Tuesday night booking, there was still no shortage of enthusiastic music lovers enjoying an awesome show. The extra floor-space was welcome, as anyone familiar with the sort of dancing that typifies Grateful Dead and other jam band concerts can certainly appreciate. Surrounded by whirling and gyrating fans but with a little extra breathing room, I thoroughly enjoyed the vibe and atmosphere.
In the booth next to me, standing out a bit among the young to middle-aged crowd, a well-dressed elderly couple clearly enjoyed the show. They danced the night away, clearly familiar with the songs and the band. While I missed the opportunity to speak with them, it seemed obvious to me that they were strong candidates for Grateful Dead fans with the lengthiest tenure present. Dark Star Orchestra's rocking show must have taken them back in time that night, as only wonderful music can do.