Dark Star Orchestra brings the Dead to life

As a musician, Rob Barraco is in the entertainment business. As a member of Dark Star Orchestra, he’
Dark Star Orchestra will raise the musical spirits of the Grateful Dead on Sunday at Albany's Palace Theatre. Rob Barraco is second from right.
Dark Star Orchestra will raise the musical spirits of the Grateful Dead on Sunday at Albany's Palace Theatre. Rob Barraco is second from right.

Categories: Entertainment

As a musician, Rob Barraco is in the entertainment business.

As a member of Dark Star Orchestra, he’s also in the improvisation business.

“Everyone in the band is really adept at improvisation,” said Barraco of the seven-player Grateful Dead-style outfit that visits Albany’s Palace Theatre on Saturday. “Some of us have jazz study backgrounds. We’re all old Deadheads and we understand how this music works.”

The Orchestra is famous for playing Dead classics and replicating the original band’s sets.

Dark Star Orchestra

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Palace Theatre, 19 Clinton Ave., Albany

HOW MUCH: $33.50

MORE INFO: 465-3334, www.palacealbany.com

“That’s the premise of our whole being,” Barraco said in a telephone interview from Buffalo, where the band played last week.

“We’ll pick a set list from a year, let’s say 1972. We’ll set up our stage, we try to be as true to the instrumentation as we can, then we go do the show. Basically what happens is we just improvise the entire show . . . we could play the same show every night and it would never come out the same.”

The Dark Star shines for about four hours each performance night. Group members will replicate three or four sets, and do one with pieces chosen by the players.

“That’s a really cool thing because we can kind of juxtaposition different years in the same show,” Barraco said. “The audience has no idea where it’s going; some people will get on their cellphones and they’ll know what show it is within three songs. It never used to be that way, but it’s that way now.”

Reviewers have praised the Orchestra in the past for its attention to detail. The guys want to make sure the sounds — and sights on stage — are as close to Dead as they can make them.

“We have a semi-truck filled with gear in order to do each era,” Barraco said. “We have from the early ’80s up to the ’90s. We have the huge drum platform they had — they called it ‘The Beast’ — we have every keyboard accessory. We even own some of Brent Mydland’s original instruments.”

Mydland played keyboards with the Dead from 1979 until his death in 1990. Former members of the Grateful Dead are familiar to the Dark Star crew, as many have performed with the band in the past.

“The last was Bob Weir in San Francisco last year,” Barraco said. “We’ve played pretty much with everybody over the years. It’s very cool. They recognize we’re good musicians and we do a really capable job of being stewards of their music. By coming and playing with us, they acknowledge that.

“Bob has played with us quite a few times, Bill Kreutzmann,” Barraco added. “I was playing with Phil [Lesh] and I asked him one day, ‘I’d really love for you to come and play with the Dark Stars,’ and he was like, ‘Sure!’ So one night at the Fillmore he showed up and played a set and it was great.”

Extended community

Barraco knows that other bands are performing Grateful Dead music. That’s OK.

“The Dead community is vast and a lot of the locals will support their local Dead band,” Barraco said.

“We all grew up playing this music. As a teenager, I was playing this music in local bars in New York, so I understand that whole mentality, I’m all for it.

“I think it’s great this music is so ever-lasting and enduring.”

Dark Star facts

• The band observed its 18th anniversary earlier this month and on Wednesday performed its 2,500th show at the House of Blues in Boston.

• Dark Star Orchestra allows recording for personal listening at its shows, barring restrictions by the venue. All venues are told ahead of time that taping will be allowed — but people have to bring their own batteries.

• DSO’s current fall tour will eventually turn into the winter tour and run through late March.

• The Orchestra is already promoting its 5th annual Dark Star Jubilee, a music festival and camp out that will be held in Thornville, Oregon, May 27-29, 2016.

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter. His blog is at www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/wilkin.

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