Earlier this month, Dark Star Orchestra founding guitarist John Kadlecik announced that he would be leaving the group to focus on Furthur, the band that debuted in September and also features Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Joe Russo, Jeff Chimenti and Jay Lane. DSO will continue, however, and has tapped Jeff Mattson (Zen Tricksters, Donna Jean Godchaux Band) to step in for the foreseeable future. Jambands.com tracked down Dark Star Orchestra keyboard player Rob Barraco to offer his thoughts on these developments. Barraco brings an interesting perspective to bear because he not only performed with Mattson in the Tricksters for many years, but also has gigged regularly with both Lesh and Weir.

MB: So the big news out of the Dark Star camp this week was the departure of John Kadlecik. How has the news affected the band as it continues its current tour with Jeff Mattson on guitar?

RB: As everything in life, change is difficult, especially when you’re getting really used to something and it’s going well. For a moment, it pulled the rug out from under our feet. But we quickly had to realize that this organization has gotten so big that it just can’t come to a crashing halt. And plus, any band that is a collective, it’s not about one guy anyway. So we got together over the phone – this happened while we were on break – so we all got together on conference calls and basically encouraged each other that we have to go on. We are all making our livings doing this, and we love doing it. So we made some inquiries and it just worked out perfectly that Jeff Mattson had some time to lend a hand for the time being. We’ve done two shows now and it’s like we didn’t miss a beat.

The first night was a re-creation of ’78 show and Jeff was just phenomenal. Now last night was a late ‘80s show and it kind of took Jeff out of his comfort zone, because there’s a couple of us in the band that were raised on the early to mid ‘70s Dead and Jeff is amongst that group. The late ‘80s stuff for him – he’s not as familiar with that sound. But he got up on that stage last night and just shredded. You should have seen the smile on my face, I was just permagrin. It’s awesome. The other thing he brings to the table is he knows the entire repertoire, not only just the Dead stuff, he knows all the Garcia stuff. So we’ve already been playing tunes that we’ve never played before, at least Dark Star has never played before. That’s kind of a thrill. It’s always nice to just shake it up a little bit.

MB: Would you say you kind of eased his transition into Dark Star having played with Jeff before in the Tricksters and with Phil [Lesh]?

RB: Yeah. I played with Jeff for eleven years. And it’s a funny thing, I really haven’t played with him in nine years, but man, we got into these jams – it’s such a comfort zone for me. I’m familiar with it, it’s ingrained in me. And we’ve both grown as musicians too, so not only is it a comfort zone, but I’m feeding off of this new thing he’s doing and he’s doing the same with me. Jeff has some incredible ears, he listens to everybody and reacts. It’s a real pleasure to play with a musician of that caliber.

MB: Would you say that you guys are going to focus on certain eras of the Dead with him?

RB: No, on the contrary, we’re going to basically do what we do. We’re not changing our game plan. The only thing that is going to happen is when we’re doing elective shows, when we’re making up setlists, we’re going to have a broader palette. And that’s something I think everybody is looking forward to.

MB: It certainly adds an interesting dynamic when you hear something played out of sequence.

RB: Oh yeah, especially stuff that maybe the Dead never played – within a jam, let’s say. You’re crossing eras – it’s interesting, it’s really cool to me, and to try to make it work, that’s the key. You can throw any songs together, but if you don’t know how to make them fit . . . this band has the uncanny ability to do that. It cracks me up actually.

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