The last time this reviewer was Dark Star Orchestra was for their amazing recreation of the last Europe ’72 show. That performance, which kicked off “Jerry Week” in style, was their first appearance at the Ford Amphitheater on Coney Island’s boardwalk. The Paramount, on the other hand, has become Dark Star’s second home during their New Year’s shows. Friday’s Huntington show was a strong collection of songs that constituted an “original show.” For Saturday, they recreated the Dead’s show from May 10, 1980 at the Hartford Civic Center. As you can hear on the excellent audience recording that circulates, the second set was where the magic truly lay. But Saturday, Dark Star gave the Hartford show the first set it so richly deserved.
1980 is a weird year to cover. The show opening “Minglewood Blues” was played far more fiery than the original. Peggy-O was highlighted by some sparkling guitar runs from Jeff Mattson and some sweet vocals to boot. The “Mexicali Blues->El Paso” combo got everyone dancing and led to an excellent “Althea.” The song had been performed for less than a year when it was played at Hartford, but this version was intense in all the right places. This represents the genius of this band. They could play the best version you’ve ever heard, but are also intent on staying faithful to the period they are covering.
“Passenger” had all the raunchy runs that have made it more appreciated now than when the Dead actually played it. Rob Eaton delivered a perfect “Lost Sailor->Saint of Circumstance” that brought us to the set-closing “Deal.” This was another version that was longer than the original, but still kept its 1980 sound.
The seven songs before “Drums” make the Hartford show a standout. Also, it seemed like after the first four they could have taken a break at any point. Luckily for us, the Dead (and subsequently Dark Star) didn’t. “China Cat Sunflower->I Know You Rider” was fantastic and “Feel Like A Stranger” was also more expanded than its original rendition. “Comes A Time,” always a treat, was sang beautifully by Mattson. “Estimated Prophet->He’s Gone->Uncle John’s Band” was as good as it looks on paper. Actually, it was better and that’s saying a lot. In addition to the audience recording, there is also a soundboard of it. Both were mastered by Charlie Miller, so you know they’re good.
Photos by Ross Edmond