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Dark Star Orchestra Play Bickershaw ’72 After 19 Other Songs at Westbury (SHOW REVIEW/PHOTOS)

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There’s a lot going on in the Deadhead universe right now. Last month, The Grateful Dead Movie celebrated its 40th anniversary with a one-night return to cinemas. Last week, the Get Shown The Light boxed set was released just in time for 40th anniversary of those shows (New Haven, Boston, Cornell, Buffalo). Later this month, Dead & Company will set out for their second summer tour.Dark Star Orchestra is also celebrating a landmark with their

Dark Star Orchestra is also celebrating a landmark with their 20th anniversary tour. Their spring dates are set to commemorate many of the shows on the aforementioned 1977 box. Besides his work in the band, Rob Eaton is also recognized for his archival efforts to bring the famed “Betty Boards” back to the vault and onto official releases.  The last two installments in the “Dave’s Picks” series have also come from this last batch of returned reels. And the band came back to the Space at Westbury on May 12th.

During sound-check, it was told that this was going to a really special show, as they would not be covering May ’77.  After the opening “Truckin”, lead guitarist Jeff Mattson told the crowd they were going to hear “A LOT of songs.”  During the “Sugaree” that followed, it sounded for a second like his singing voice might be going. Thankfully, he and the band rallied big time. The show they covered was the 27-song spectacular from the Bickershaw Festival on May 7, 1972. The show is notable as being the European show to feature both “Dark Star” and “The Other One.”

But that didn’t happen until NINETEEN SONGS in. Before we were treated to a sweet “He’s Gone,” a raging “China Cat Sunflower->I Know You Rider,” and a tight but psychedelic “Playing In The Band. The show also featured five Pigpen songs, all handled by Rob Baracco. Baracco and Mattson, both Long Islanders, have been playing together since their days in the Volunteers-turned-Zen Tricksters. Their chemistry was obvious on this night. From his spot on stage left, Jeff was often turned towards the keyboardist and playing off Rob’s vocal raps and piano flourishes.

The most amazing thing about this band has always been their commitment to replicating every aspect of a Grateful Dead performance.  They recreate the stage set up, instruments, and the setlists. However, the songs they are playing are some of the most open-ended and improvisational tunes in music history. Imitation, no matter how faithful, can only take you so far. The jams have to sound spontaneous and inspired. You just can’t fake a Pigpen “Good Lovin’.

Both “Dark Star” and “The Other One” shined, especially considering the band had been onstage for over three hours when they were played. The band didn’t even get much of a break during the drum solo, as they sat on stage left. After “The Other One,” the cover of Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home,” was so sweet you were left wishing the Dead never dropped it from their repertoire. Maybe Dead & Company can give it a whirl this time out.

The stretch drive of songs were all rockers and sent everyone home with sore feet. “Lovelight” was a particular standout and highlighted Jeff and Rob’s chemistry yet again. Those two never let the home crowd down.

The entire Bickershaw show can be heard in its entirety along with the rest of the Europe ’72 tour. The “Dark Star->Drums->Other One” appeared on the Vol. 2 compilation.  Some of the shorter stuff, including some Pigpen, can be found on Steppin’ Out With The Grateful Dead.

Photos by Ross Edmund

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