Dark Star Orchestra descended on Raleigh's Ritz for a rip-roaring riot of a show, inventing their own energetic setlist chock full of Grateful Dead classics and beloved covers. A special energy floated in the air on this beautiful spring evening, blessing the faithful with one more Saturday night to smile smile smile with friends and celebrate another long strange trip around the sun.
They charged out of their corner with the combo punch of "Alabama Getaway" and "Greatest Story Ever Told" to get the crowd moving right from the starting bell. Things mellowed down for "Candyman" and "My Brother Esau" before a left turn into "Run for the Roses," a Jerry Garcia solo song never actually performed by the Dead. "They Love Each Other" set the audience swooning before they got back truckin' on with "Keep on Growing," a Derek & the Dominos scorcher played just 4 times by the Dead in 1985. A poke around "Cumberland Blues" prefaced a sparkling "Sunrise" and the intricate twists and turns of "Let it Grow" to wrap up the festive first set.
The music only stops for intermission, and after the requisite reunions, revelations and reups, inspiration moved them brightly to twist the timeless suite of "Help on the Way," and "Slipknot!" into a surprising "Feels Like a Stranger" to open the second set. They rolled away another rare cover from 1985 in Bob Dylan's "She Belongs to Me" before letting it rain with the massive musical marriage of "St. Stephen" and "Iko Iko." The aggressive ambiance of "Drums and "Space" blossomed into the heavenly melody of "Unbroken Chain" and a rousing take on the Beatles' immortal crowd-pleaser "Why Don't We Do it in the Road." The pristine poignancy of "Stella Blue" led to the fan favorite "Sugar Magnolia" to put the second set to bed.
They encored the eternal elegance of "Brokedown Palace" to end the evening. The band was in excellent form all night, playing no particular way but their own, with instruments interweaving and delicious morsels of music plucked from the air like fruit from the vine. In the wake of their flood was a tribe marked by big grins, huge hugs and tired feet. The only thing missing was a left-handed monkey wrench.
- Paul Kerr
- Photos by Todd E. Gaul, www.photophile.com