After five years away from Houston, Dark Star Orchestra, a popular band that pays tribute to Grateful Dead, is coming to the House of Blues at 8 p.m. Thursday.
This is not a normal cover band. Instead, the musical style of Grateful Dead gives room for improvisation for the band members to show off their talent as musicians.
Dark Star Orchestra first formed in Chicago in 1997. The original lineup has changed over the years, with some members leaving and others joining in. Among the most popular longtime members is drummer Rob Koritz, who joined the band in 1999 — only two years after it formed.
“The thing that sets us apart from others is their (the Grateful Dead’s) music was 90 percent improvised,” Koritz said. “We had no expectation of where it would go.”
Koritz himself first learned of the Grateful Dead when he was in high school and was already a musician. As a fan, Koritz went to see the Dead more than 100 times.
“Those were some of the best days of my life,” Koritz said. “I was way into the drummer, so I spent a lot of time watching him,” he said.
While earning a degree in jazz from Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri, Koritz played in a number of bands.
“I have done everything except for being in a metal band,” Koritz said.
After performing with the rest of Dark Star Orchestra for more than 10 years, Koritz has developed a skill for playing with the other members of the band. The band itself is no longer Chicago-based, but is in several different states. When the members are done touring, they go their separate ways.
Despite this, Koritz said he feels like he improvises with other members of the band with ease.
“It comes from knowing each other and having really big ears,” Koritz said.
The structure for Dark Star Orchestra’s music comes from different sets Grateful Dead played throughout its years of touring.
“We don’t always play off the set list. We play some of their songs that are a little bit more rare, or ones from different eras,” Kortz said. “We like to change it up some. Here is this song, and we know that we can take it in any direction (with improvisation). We are all pretty intense students of this music.”
One of the most significant aspects of the group is their love of the music the Grateful Dead made throughout their long career. The song that Koritz most enjoys, he said, is “The Music Never Stopped” because “the lyrics grabbed me.”
The most important thing to the band is “the fact that we’re not doing this for the money. We’re doing this to perpetuate the music,” Koritz said.