The weather was beautiful as we walked through the historic Stone Pony nightclub on our way to the venue’s outdoor stage. I told my friends on the train down to show that I really wanted to see them play a ’70s show. It was just my poor luck that the band decided to play a show from 1992. That would be strike one against the band, but they never made it to strike two.
Touch Of Grey opened the precedings, and it was clear that everything I heard about the band was true. John Kadlecik sounded exactly like Jerry, both vocally and on lead guitar. And the rumors were true about Rob Eaton. Bobby was great last week, but DSO’s Rob Eaton sang his tunes with more passion and played the chords with more verve than the real thing. I must say, it was pretty funny hearing new full-time DSO member Rob Barraco playing over synth’d sounds on his keyboard just like Vince Welnick. Who would have ever thought someone would be imitating Vince?! Rob did an incredible job of making me forget he was channeling Welnick, thankfully.
The first set was fairly laid back, which was what the beautiful outdoor setting on the shore required. Thanks to the mobile internet, my friends were able to identify the show pretty quickly, and informed me I was seeing 5/21/92 from Cal Expo.
Once the second set started, the band took off the training wheels. Scarlet > Fire was when it was time for me to close my eyes and be transported back in time. They absolutely nailed both tunes, and the jam in between songs was scorching. Everyone was having a good time, and the happiness was contagious. With every note, the Dark Star Orchestra impressed me more and more.
My favorite part of the show was the jam out of He’s Gone. Every member of the band accentuated each other’s playing, creating a meshed sound that showed true teamwork. The ’92 version of the Grateful Dead would have been extremely jealous of what we were hearing. Kadlecik would start a phrase and bassist Kevin Rosen would finish it, as if they had been playing together for 30 years. I was bummed when the jam ended and Drums/Space started.
Some people, I think, are into Drums > Space. I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now. Not to take anything away from the drummers, who were amazing, but it just took the wind out of my sails. I got over it, and so did the band when they returned to finish the set with a blistering Watchtower followed by Standing On The Moon.
What surprised me most was how well Kadlecik handled the ballads. My biggest problem with Dead cover bands is that no one can come close to emoting like Jerry Garcia. Kadlecik, by far, did the best imitation of anyone I’ve heard before. Standing On The Moon was glorious, especially given the magnificent setting. Everyone in the audience was reaching out for their loved ones as Kadlecik wailed on the “be with you” line. Then he stepped away from the mic and ripped a solo that would have made ol’ Captain Trips smile.
Throughout the show I would look around and just see the goofiest permagrins on everyone’s faces. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a crowd enjoy a show so much. Eaton did a fabulous job of hitting all the high notes in Lovelight, as the show came to a close. The band followed up with a Gloria / So Many Roads encore that kept the emotions high before they called it a night.
In the end, all that really matters is the music, and the Dark Star Orchestra couldn’t have come closer to portraying the genuine article. Some people want to see Dead-related bands cover new ground, but then you get disasters like Mickey Hart rapping Fire On The Mountain or Bobby chanting Eyes of the World. Sometimes you just want to see the music you’ve grown up with, played the same way you originally saw it.
When you get those pangs, check out DSO. You’ll be smiling for days.
- Previously on HT: The B List: Cover Bands That Don’t Suck
- Elsewhere: Ace’s eulogy for original keyboardist Scott Larned
- John Merin’s audience recording from the Live Music Archive
07/14/2007 The Stone Pony Outdoor Stage, Asbury Park NJ
Set 1: Touch of Grey, Wang Dang Doodle, Row Jimmy, Me and My Uncle >Maggie’s Farm, Birdsong
Set 2: Scarlet Begonias > Fire On The Mountain, Estimated Prophet > He’s Gone > Drums/Space > All Along The Watchtower> Standing On The Moon > Turn On Your Lovelight
Filler: So Many Roads
Originally performed at 05/21/1992 Cal Expo Amphitheater, Sacramento CA