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Dark Star Orchestra keeps the music of the Dead alive

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Thursday, February 9, 2012

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Dark Star Orchestra distinguishes itself from the glut of other Grateful Dead tribute bands by picking a particular Dead show and re-creating the set list.

But keyboardist Rob Barraco is quick to point out that doesn’t mean the group re-creates the show.

“We don’t copy the music note for note or make any attempt to do that,” says Barraco, 55, who played in Dead bassist Phil Lesh’s band as well as the latter-day incarnation of The Dead. “We take set lists, so there’s a pre-determined element as far as what song we’ll play. But when the music starts, we’re improvising the entire show, and the audience comes on the journey with us.

“There was a misnomer that the Dead went up there and pulled songs out of the air. I think there was more of a blueprint than that. They just left options open ... I think we’re doing a lot more work to effect the outcome of the show in terms of the improvisational aspect.”

Rhythm guitarist Rob Eaton is charged with making Dark Star Orchestra’s show selections, employing a database to keep tabs on what the group has played before in each city. “It’s an arduous job. I’d never want it,” Barraco notes. And the keyboardist says that even after 13 years together, the band’s range of shows continues to grow.

“The last couple of years we’ve stared doing some of the early shows, like ’69 and ’70, which Dark Star never approached before,” Barraco says. “It took a lot of listening to understand what elements need to be brought in to get that raw, heavy-duty sound. It’s completely different, real hit-you-over-the-head kind of music, like a garage band in a way — a sophisticated garage band.

“But I think everybody is so well versed now in all of the eras of the Dead. We kind of know what we have to do and just go for it.”

Dark Star Orchestra performs Thursday, Feb. 9, at the Majestic Theatre, 4140 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance, $22 day of show. Call 313-833-9700 or visit www.majesticdetroit.com.

Web Site: www.majesticdetroit.com

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