Dark Star Orchestra returned to Coney Island Friday Night for the first time since 2016. The Ford Amphitheater was brand new back then, but is still a fantastic venue for the band to play. In addition to the usual parking lot shenanigans, one can ride the Cyclone, eat at Nathan’s, and have a few drink’s at Ruby’s on the boardwalk. Like the aforementioned 2016 show, this one also came right around “Jerry Week.” Rather than play an actual Grateful Dead setlist, the band played an elective show on Friday, August 10th.
They came firing out the gate with “Help On The Way” into “Slipknot!” into “Franklin’s Tower.” If that wasn’t enough, they then essentially reopened the show with “Hell In A Bucket” and “Candyman.” From there on in, the list read like a super-hot first set from 1985 and that’s how it sounded. Derek and the Dominos’ “Keep On Growing” was fantastic, as was the “Ramble On Rose” that followed. Jeff Mattson was in great form and was ripping off some searing leads to electrify the crowd. The closing triad of “Lost Sailor” into “Saint Of Circumstance” into “Deal” was equally great. There were very few times that the Dead played that combination and it wasn’t fantastic. Dark Star did the songs justice and then some.
The second set looked like something from the late 1980s, with the exception of the pre-drums “Not Fade Away” and its set-closing reprise. The “NFA” was completely insane. It ripped and seemed to go on forever. The only song that bested it was “The Other One” which segued out of “Unbroken Chain.” Actually, bassist Skip Vangelas deserves a mention for nailing both of Phil Lesh’s best-loved compositions. Having witnessed two of the Dead’s 1995 attempts at “Unbroken Chain,” I can attest to it not going nearly as smoothly.
Back to “The Other One.” It had all of the rage of the Eugene 1/22/78 version that was released as Dave’s Picks 23 last year. Rhythm guitarist Rob Eaton had a lot to do with the restoration and eventual preservation of the famed “Betty Boards,” so I’m sure it was no accident that this version seemed to use the Oregon one as a template. But it was far from a cover. It had an unpredictability all its own. The “Goin’ Down The Road Feeling Bad” served as a perfect segue to the “Not Fade Away” reprise.
For the encore, the band kept the party vibe alive with a fiery version of Bob Dylan’s “Quinn The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn).” Just as was the case in 2016, the weather waited until after the show ended to cease cooperating. The rain picked up just as everyone was about to leave. It was a just a perfect night. In Grateful Dead terms, just exactly perfect, to be precise.