Reviews

Dark Star Orchestra: 5 February 2010 - Chicago

Since 1997 DSO has exclusively paid tribute to the Grateful Dead, evoking the band’s spirit and live energy by recreating genuine Dead performances.

Donna Jean Godchaux Band

Dark Star Orchestra + The Donna Jean Godchaux Band

City: Chicago
Venue: The Vic Theatre
Date: 2010-02-05

Premiere Grateful Dead tribute band Dark Star Orchestra returned to their Chicago roots 5-6 February for a traditional two-night run at the Vic Theatre. Since 1997, DSO has exclusively paid tribute to the Grateful Dead, evoking the band’s spirit and live energy by recreating genuine Dead performances. To ensure authenticity DSO adapts their vocal arrangements, equipment, stage set-up and musical phrasings to match the Dead’s approach during a given era. The musicians make the music their own by filling in the blanks with their own improvisations, styles and seasonings. Adding to the intrigue of each performance, DSO puts expert Deadheads to the test by withholding the actual performance date until the end.

I was able to catch the first night of the ride which replicated 29 April, 1972, originally performed at the Musikhalle in Hamburg, Germany. Dead vet Donna Jean Godchaux opened the evening with the Donna Jean Godchaux Band with Jeff Mattson. Godchaux performed with the Grateful Dead, alongside her late husband Keith, from 1972 to 1979; Donna was background vocals and Keith played keyboards.

The 5 February audience appeared to have mixed emotions regarding Godchaux’s presence. Outside the Vic, concertgoers voiced their opinions on Godchaux’s chords: one man thought she sounded like a “dying animal,” while some felt her contributions disrupted the Dead’s groove. Other fans relayed their appreciation for Godchaux’s vocal range and strength.

Her set drew a good-sized crowd as she laid down both original and Dead tunes. I felt her voice sounded as good as ever with a cross between a croon and freestyle-jazz.

Donna Jean Godchaux Band

Her band added a modest accompaniment without getting carried away with over-the-top jam sessions. The Donna Jean Godchaux Band ended their brief set with the upbeat Dead classic “Samson and Delilah”, which pumped the crowd for what was to come.

Godchaux’s band has frequently opened for DSO, and it is not uncommon for her to join them on stage lending her vocals. Unfortunately “Samson and Delilah” was the last of Godchaux, for she did not accompany DSO that night, leaving all of the female vocals to resident belter Lisa Mackey. DSO took stage around 10 P.M. and immediately set into “Playing in the Band”.

Jeff Mattson

They were joined onstage by Donna Jean Godchaux Band guitarist Jeff Mattson (Zen Tricksters, Phil Lesh and Friends), who pulled double duty; Mattson has been temporarily filling the void of DSO co-founder and lead guitarist John Kadlecik. He left the band in December to join the ranks of Bob Weir and Phil Lesh with their latest project Furthur. Kadlecik was infamous for channeling the sound of the late Jerry Garcia’s guitar technique and vocals, leaving big shoes to fill. Mattson is one of two potential replacements and will be on a trial run with the band through March.

Immediately, Mattson’s guitar playing matched every intricate moment “Playing in the Band” had to offer. Between his guitar work, Mackay’s vocals and Rob Barraco’s attention to detail on keyboards, the band sounded alive and robust. However, less than five minutes into the song, the band segued into a detailed, premature jam. There was barely any build-up or ease into the music before the jam entranced the audience, leading many of the youngsters to circle and weave their arms in the air. Personally I was not wrapped up in the music enough to get lost in the impromptu session, leading my interest towards the back of the venue.

Another minor letdown was the absence of drummer Dino English, leaving a traditionally two-piece rhythm section in the hands of lone percussionist Rob Koritz.

Rob Koritz

The lack of English took away some of the round, circular bottom the original Rhythm Devils (Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann) instated. Luckily, bassist Kevin Rosen filled the music’s bottom with a kinetic flow of bass. Rhythm guitarist Rob Eaton also helped seal the gaps with various underlying embellishments and twinkles.

The remainder of the first set dabbled between full bodied, blues influenced tunes, such as “Mr. Charlie”, “Big Boss Man”, and “Good Lovin’”, and coasting Americana ditties like “Chinatown Shuffle” and “Me and My Uncle”. Though I appreciated the diversity of the tunes, not all of the jams were captivating or memorable.

It was not until the second set that the overall tone of the show pulled me in. DSO returned to the stage after set break with a bang, performing the energetic prose, “The Greatest Story Ever Told”. After several straight-forward numbers the band dove into the epic “Dark Star”. The complexities of “Dark Star” brought forth intricate playing from each musician, demonstrating player’s ability to communicate with each other via their instruments. As a whole, the band paid superb attention to detail, staying cohesively together throughout, all while floating towards “Space”.

With only one drummer the “Space” segment of the performance ran a little thin, but was quickly amped up with the upbeat favorite “Sugar Magnolia.” Looking around there was nothing but smiles plastered on fans’ faces as they swayed and bounced around to the beat. “Sugar Magnolia” was preceded by a jazzy rendition of “Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks)” which banked on the backbeat while both Eaton and Mattson steered with their guitars.

Both sets included a stellar selection of songs, which mixed and matched everything from psychedelic wanderings, blues-infused vocals, Americana twang, and improvisational rock, all with a hint of freestyle jazz. There were an abundance of Pigpen tunes, the Dead’s original keyboardist, which allowed Barraco to show off his ability to ad-lib in a bluesy timbre. There were also several greatest hits shuffled in the mix that made for a safe and not entirely surprising selection of songs; however the predictable nature comes with the territory of covering a performance verbatim. I observed several newer fans unfamiliar with the band’s formula shouting out requests for popular favorites such as “Casey Jones”, “Jack Straw”, “Sugar Magnolia”, and “Uncle John’s Band”; lucky for them their requests were satisfied for they were already factored into the mix. The only request that went ignored was “Free Bird” (how original).

In total, DSO played for an admirable four hours. They served their mission of rousing the energy and intrigue that goes along with the Grateful Dead’s music by sparking memories for old-timers and creating new ones for the inexperienced.

On the rail

Rob Eaton and Lisa Mackey

Rob Eaton, Lisa Mackey and Jeff Mattson

On the rail

Rob Barraco

Kevin Rosen and Rob Eaton

Lisa Mackey

Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)


In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image