Moonalice, John Popper and Chan Kinchla, Spin Doctors, Dark Star Orchestra
Irving Plaza (Fillmore East)
New York, New York
May 27, 2008
On Tuesday, May 27, 2008 a concert was held at the Fillmore East (Irving Plaza) in honor of the greatest concert promoter of all time, Bill Graham. The entire night was a fundraiser for the Bill Graham Memorial Foundation, a charity created to give underprivileged persons grants in the arts. The lineup consisted of Moonalice, John Popper and Chan Kinchla, Spin Doctors, and the headliners, Dark Star Orchestra.
The first act to come on was Moonalice, an all-star band that’s flying under the radar. Most people have never heard of this band and it’s a shame. They have a great rock and roll sound yet jam out thanks to the help of G.E. Smith (former guitarist and band leader of the Saturday Night Live house band), Barry Sless, and Pete Sears. G.E. did some singing while Barry moved between playing an amazing pedal steel as well as a mean 6 string guitar. The highlight of this set was their closer, “Stella Blue.” It was very soft and melodic and put together nicely.
Up next to perform were John Popper and Chan Kinchla. Since only the two of them were announced, no one was really sure who was going to play with them. As it turns out, the answer was no one. They performed a wonderful acoustic set with Popper singing and wailing on the harmonica with enough energy to excite the entire floor. They drove through a short but sweet set that included classics such as “Hook” and “But Anyway,” which featured a great harp solo. It was very interesting to hear Blues Traveler’s material performed acoustically but the audience loved it so they obviously made the right decision.
The Spin Doctors have been around since the late 80’s and were always considered a fun band to see live. This night was no different. The amount of passion these guys played with was no surprise. Lead singer Chris Barron was full of energy, at moments kicking his leg up in the air so high he cleared the microphone stand.
Their two big hits, “Two Princes” and “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” really got the crowd excited, but they got their best response from the crowd with their cover of the Grateful Dead classic, “Ripple.” It appeared as though this was the first time the band had ever performed it live, as Barron kept looking down at a sheet of lyrics next to his set list to make sure he didn’t mess up. They got a a huge ovation after they had finished their set at around 11:15 pm. As good as the Spin Doctors were, 90% of the crowd came for one reason and one reason only, Dark Star Orchestra.
For those not familiar with DSO, they are a Grateful Dead cover band and are considered the best of the best. They are famous for picking out a classic Dead show and playing it in it’s entirety, song for song, even going so far as to purposely miss notes just like the Dead had at that particular show. The band also includes original set lists (still all Dead songs) every once in a while to mix things up.
DSO came on stage and proceeded to play one of their original set lists. Dead favorites such as “Mr. Charlie” and “I Need a Miracle” got the crowd’s juices flowing early. They also played a great version of Wilson Pickett’s “Midnight Hour,” a song the Dead covered frequently.
A real treat was “Lazy River Road,” a song you can’t find on any studio album, one of those rare gems that was only played live, and it a deeply soulful ballad with a chorus that the entire crowd can sing to. True to form, DSO played the first few verses to “Dark Star,” the song from which the band got their name.
The tightest part of their set was without a doubt “Terrapin Station.” Lead guitarist and singer John Kadlecik is well known for sounding hauntingly like Jerry Garcia and here he did not disappoint. A tremendous jam followed that never let up, keeping the Fillmore rockin’ for over 15 min. Rob Eaton, who plays rhythm guitar and sings all of Bob Weir’s songs kicked into "Sugar Magnolia" quite literally, as he is well known not only for sounding like Bobby when he sings but for having the same mannerisms while playing the guitar. He really takes each song to that extra level, always looking like he’s having a great time onstage.
Overall the concert was a success. Each band sounded great and recruited some new fans as a direct result. Money from the tickets as well as a silent auction for a signed Grateful Dead poster was raised for the Bill Graham Memorial Foundation and his two sons were on hand to thank the audience before and after the show. It was a great night for music and charity and we can all hope that this was the first of many annual Bill Graham Memorial concerts.