Dark Star Orchestra channels Dead vibe

Music » Band ready to keep truckin' in SLC.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Do you remember where you were on Feb. 9, 1973? How about Oct. 15, 1984? Or June 22, 1991?

The seven members of Dark Star Orchestra don't remember where they were those days, either, but they sure know where the Grateful Dead were.

That's because the tribute band replicates an actual concert by the Grateful Dead at every concert they perform, song-by-song, only revealing the date of the concert at the end of the show.

Just don't call them a tribute band. The term, according to John Kadlecik, who performs as front man Jerry Garcia, has a kind of stigma.

"It's not so much we are paying tribute, but we're keeping the vibe alive," said Dino English, who performs as percussionist Bill Kreutzmann. "It's a continuation of the Dead's music."

And there's this difference: In contrast to the numerous Beatles tribute bands, who grow mop-tops and wear Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band uniforms, DSO makes no attempt to look like the Grateful Dead. But when it comes to the music that inspired legions of Deadheads, the musicians perform shows that offers a historical perspective on what it must have been like to go to a Dead concert in the '70s, '80s or '90s.

Their staging replicates the staging of a particular show. Kadlecik, for instance, uses the same amp rigs and equipment that Garcia played. Phrasing, voice arrangements and equipment are adapted to match the sound of the Dead's original shows -- most are recorded on bootleg tapes the Grateful Dead long encouraged.

But both Kadlecik and English underscore that while DSO is faithful to the set list, the band doesn't try to match the live songs note-for-note, because that would hinder the free-flowing improvisation that was a hallmark of Grateful Dead shows. "If you're thinking too much, you're not going to be a good antennae to flow through," English said.

How are these musicians qualified to embody the spirit of the Dead? Before they became DSO, they were fans. Keyboardist Rob Barraco saw his first Dead show on Aug. 6, 1974, and saw more than 300 concerts before Garcia died in 1995. Rhythm guitarists Rob Eaton has seen more than 400 shows. And Kadlecik followed the band as a Deadhead during the band's entire 1992 spring tour.

The band, in its decade of playing together, has played more than 1,600 shows, with nearly a different Dead concert each time. After all, the Dead never played the same show twice.

For the Dark Star Orchestra, one night could be 1975. The next could be 1993.

Goes to show, you don't ever know. Well, well, well, you can never tell.

Dark Star Orchestra

When » April 2, 8 p.m.

Where » The Depot, 400 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City

Tickets » $23 in advance, $25 day of, at SmithsTix