Music News

Dark Star Orchestra: Reviving the Dead

Dark Star Orchestra is as close to the Grateful Dead as you'll get these days, but don't think of them as a tribute band. No member tries to look like any of the Dead. There's no effort to talk like them, either. Instead, the DSO picks a different Dead show from the history books and tries to bring a bit of it back to life onstage every night. In doing so for the past decade, they've built up a legion of fans called Starheads, who include members of the Grateful Dead. Rhythm guitarist/vocalist Rob Eaton recently took the time to explain.

New Times: You re-create a different Dead show during each of your performances, from different years and different cities. Do you ever get lost?

Rob Eaton: The term "re-creating a show" is a little misleading because you really can't re-create someone else's show. For us, it's a set list of songs. We don't analyze how they played the show and copy it. We play the songs in the order they played it with the arrangements they used at the time. That's kind of our blueprint. We don't get lost because we're playing in the moment, improvising, because that's what the music really is.

NT: What has playing entire Grateful Dead shows for 10 years taught you about the Dead?

Eaton: If it taught us anything, it's that there really are no rules. There's no one way to do this. There's no formula, no pattern. It's purely freedom and improvisation and that's really what the Grateful Dead were all about.

NT: What is it about the Dead that remains so enduring?

Eaton: I think the thing about the Dead is: It was a way of life, a community, a feeling that we all had as Deadheads. They enabled people to come together in this one-mindedness, regardless of anyone's politics, this or that, sexual orientation . . . I think there's still a desire for that, a need for it. It's almost like our church in a way.

NT: You've performed with five alumni of the Dead. How surreal is that, playing side by side with artists you followed for so many years and now pay homage to most nights of the year?

Eaton: It's basically a really powerful statement to us that what we're doing is good and positive. There are people in the Grateful Dead community who refuse to listen to what we do or even come see us because it's blasphemous in some people's eyes. But when we have the Grateful Dead themselves come play with us, it's sort of justifies and legitimizes what we're doing in a very positive way. It's very satisfying and humbling to know they come and support us after we came and supported them for so many years.

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Cole Haddon