Joe Russo's Almost Dead: An Experience Like No Other March 16, 2017 10:39
Words by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
After having a few days to rest, travel, and recover, it only seems right to sit down and reflect on the unforgettable experience I had this past weekend. Joe Russo's Almost Dead played its first ever show at Brooklyn Bowl on January 26th, 2013 for what was thought to be a one-time-only special occasion. The show was born as a result of "The Freaks List," an NYC-based email list which would throw an annual event at Brooklyn Bowl. For the 2013 event, The Freaks requested that Joe Russo, Marco Benevento, Dave Dreiwitz, and Scott Metzger switch things up from their regular existing Led Zeppelin tribute (Bustle In Your Hedgegrow) and instead perform the music of the Grateful Dead. Russo would then recruit renowned guitarist Tom Hamilton to complete the five-piece lineup.
Once this month's JRAD Brooklyn Bowl residency was announced, I decided that there was no excuse not to travel to New York for the first weekend. After attending LOCKN' Festival last August and catching my first two JRAD sets, seeing them again has been a top priority. Thursday night marked the band's 100th show, and walking into that venue for the first time is a feeling that I'll never forget. I'm going to do my best to run through each night's setlist and provide some select video footage, but as many already know, these guys throw in more teases, reprises, and flat out curve balls than anyone you'll find.
Those familiar with "Beat It On Down The Line" know those first five beats that kick off the song. In honor of the band's 100th show, BIODTL opened up the show with 100 beats before busting into the Dead classic. The set continued with fiery takes on "Bertha," Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried" and "Help On The Way" > "Slipknot." While the Dead would normally segue into "Franklin's Tower," JRAD is no ordinary Dead tribute. An extended "Throwing Stones" jam had me convinced that was where we were headed, until "New Minglewood Blues" busted into full effect. The always beautiful "Ramble On Rose" would follow, providing a nice sing-a-long, which is always good for the soul. The first set ultimately closed with the band's first ever live original, "Keeping It Simple." If you can find a band of this magnitude that debuts its first original at its 100th show, I would love to hear about it.
Watch JRAD perform its first ever live original "Keeping It Simple" here:
The second set kicked off with one of my all time favorites, "The Music Never Stopped." This was just one of the many times that guitarist Scott Metzger truly shined. While each band member had countless moments throughout the weekend, it blows my mind how well Metzger emulates Bobby (Weir). From the style of play to overall demeanor/vocals, he has truly mastered his role in the band. A lengthy jam on Jimi Hendrix's "Third Stone From The Sun" and "Music Never Stopped Reprise" provided for some truly wild improvisation, and just when I was thinking we were headed for a "Wharf Rat," Hamilton led a perfect transition into "Row Jimmy," which ultimately flowed into "Crazy Fingers." Metzger shined yet again throughout "Estimated Prophet," and the "Jack Straw" > "Morning Dew" which closed out the show was simply perfect. It never ceases to amaze me how thorough the Dead's catalog is. That, coupled with JRAD's creative spin, makes every night feel like a "greatest hits" set.
Those who have attended multi-night runs with one of their favorite bands know the level of excitement upon arriving at the venue each night. Walking back into Brooklyn Bowl for night two was exciting, to say the least, and there was much anticipation for what was to come. Hamilton led the band through a rocking "Don't Ease Me In" to open things up, before a cover of "Man Smart (Woman Smarter)" had us all dancing and singing along. I couldn't help but feel like this was an appropriate nod to International Woman's Day, but who knows. A lengthy jam ultimately led into "China Cat Sunflower," and while the Dead would normally move straight into "I Know You Rider," JRAD went with "Feel Like A Stranger." After a brief moment to regroup, the band fired into "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo," which had an especially sentimental aspect for me. Something about the lines, "Hello baby, I'm gone, goodbye. Farewell to you old southern skies, I'm on my way" really hits home. While JRAD doesn't follow all of the Dead's traditional pairings, a perfect take on "Lost Sailor" > "Saint Of Circumstance" closed out the first set in epic fashion. The lengthy "Terrapin" jam during "Saint of Circumstance" left even more anticipation for set two.
Watch a clip from "Saint of Circumstance" here:
The rocking vibe picked right back up as "Greatest Story Ever Told" started off the second set, and what seemed to be a transition into "Black Throated Wind" eventually led into the band's first cover of Led Zeppelin's "Moby Dick" since April of 2015. This one flowed beautifully into a "Music Never Stopped Reprise," which was yet another JRAD debut. Hamilton slowed the pace a bit as he led the way through "Candyman," before all five band members chimed in for a flawless, upbeat take on "Uncle John's Band." The debuts continued with a "Stella Blue" jam, and the "He's Gone" that followed threw me for a major loop as they teased the theme song from the Netflix hit series "Stranger Things." You could hear "The Wheel" coming from a mile away, and it certainly didn't disappoint. After a lengthy tease of "St. Stephen," the band worked through the always soothing "So Many Roads," just before "Sugar Magnolia/Sunshine Daydream" just about lit the place on fire and closed out the set. The encore started in classic Dead form with "Ripple," which was followed by the first "U.S. Blues" since JRAD's first show in January of 2013. You can imagine the crowd reaction when those opening notes hit.
Watch a clip from "Sunshine Daydream" here:
While the idea of a three-night run was once intimidating, it's damn near impossible to pass up the opportunity these days. While there are a million other things one could get into while visiting New York City, my friends and I had unfinished business at the Bowl. This was no easy ticket to find either. The lowest price on the secondary market was right at $200 including fees, and you just knew that it was a special night. This set started off with more serious exploration before dropping into a "Cassidy" > "Let It Grow Jam" > "Born Cross Eyed Jam." It's moments like this where this band truly transcends the "tribute" aspect. These extended teases, jams, whatever you want to call them...they will keep any Dead fan engaged and paying attention to every note. The anticipation built throughout this level of improvisation is what separates this band from just about any other, for me personally.
Before we get too off track, "Tennessee Jed" was up next, and Tom Hamilton and Marco Benevento had a hell of a lot of fun with it. Benevento's lengthy solo even contained a nice rendition of "chop sticks" that had the entire room laughing. Metzger then busted out "Chuckles," an original from the WOLF! catalog, which made for yet another JRAD debut. Finding a way to work in The Champs' "Tequila" is never a bad idea, and why not work it back into a "Chuckles Reprise"? Next, came a great cover of Johnny Cash's "Big River," and the "Box of Rain" that followed couldn't have been placed any more perfectly. One of Jerry Garcia's finest, "Althea," was played to perfection, and the "Throwing Stones" that I was waiting for all weekend closed the set with a bang, to say the least. No matter where you stand in the political spectrum, this one is as powerful as ever considering our current climate.
Watch JRAD perform "Throwing Stones" here:
The weekend's final set started off smokin' hot with "Deal" > "Good Lovin'," and it's absolutely worth noting that "Good Lovin'" contained a lengthy jam on Olivia Newton-John & John Travlota's "Summer Nights" from the 1978 hit film Grease. A "Good Lovin' Reprise" then transitioned to Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker" (another JRAD debut). "Cumberland Blues" made for some great late night foot stomping and even featured another "Slipknot" tease, before Hamilton absolutely ripped into "Terrapin Station." Midway through this masterpiece came a jam on "The Other One," and the remaining layers of the "Terrapin Suite" were as much as we could have asked for. Fingers were crossed for a "One More Saturday Night" encore, and while nearly nothing is predictable about this band, I couldn't have been more pleased to get that one right.
Those who made it this far through this article have most likely experienced JRAD in some shape or fashion. Having grown up listening to the Grateful Dead, and taking a special interest in the Benevento/Russo Duo in high school, this band had my attention with its inception nearly four years ago. Ever since catching the late night sets at LOCKN' 2016, I haven't been able to stop listening to these guys. They absolutely stole that weekend for me personally, and that takes nothing away from the performances from Phish, My Morning Jacket, Phil & Friends, and others. Last weekend at Brooklyn Bowl only reaffirmed that Joe Russo's Almost Dead is one of the most electrifying, creative bands of our time. They take the music of the Dead, add their own creative touch, and legitimately take things to another level. This experience with this band in its home venue was one that I'll never forget. And if you're still reading, keep a close eye on those future tour dates and make JRAD a top priority.
Watch JRAD perform "Good Lovin'" here:
Setlists via Joe Russo's Almost Dead Official Facebook Page
Setlist: Joe Russo's Almost Dead - Brooklyn Bowl - 03.09.17
Set One: BIODTL @, Bertha #, Mama Tried -> Help On The Way -> Slipknot! -> Throwin’ Stones Jam $ -> New Minglewood Blues %, Ramble On Rose, Keeping It Simple ^
Set Two: Music Never Stopped & -> Third Stone From The Sun Jam * -> Music Never Stopped Reprise + > Row Jimmy @@ -> Crazy Fingers -> Estimated Prophet -> Jack Straw -> Morning Dew
@ – 100 Beat – Beat It On Down The Line
# – With a “Shortnin’ Bread” (James Whitcomb Riley) tease (MB)
$ – First Time Played By Almost Dead
% – With Throwin’ Stones Teases / Jams (Band)
^ – Almost Dead Original, Written by JR & TH, First Time Played
& – With an “Ode to Billy Joe” (Bobbie Gentry) Tease (SM)
* – Jimi Hendrix original, First Time Played By Almost Dead
+ – Not played by Almost Dead since Suwannee Hulaween, 10.29.15, a gap of 49 shows
@@ – Proceeded by a significant Wharf Rat Tease / Jam – may become a separate track based on length. Also with a Throwin’ Stones Tease
Setlist: Joe Russo's Almost Dead - Brooklyn Bowl - 03.10.17
Set One: Don't Ease Me In, Women Are Smarter -> China Cat Sunflower -> Feel Like A Stranger @, Mississippi Half Step -> Lost Sailor -> Saint Of Circumstance #
Set Two: Greatest Story Ever Told $ -> Moby Dick % -> Music Never Stopped Reprise Reprise ^ -> Greatest Story Ever Told Reprise &, Candyman -> Uncle Johns Band -> Stella Blue Jam * -> He’s Gone + -> The Wheel @@ -> St. Stephen Jam -> So Many Roads ##, Sugar Magnolia/Sunshine Daydream
Encore: Ripple $$ (TH) > US Blues %%
- @ – With an “Apache” (Jerry Lordan) Tease (MB)
- # – With a Terrapin Jam (may become a separate track), Ruben & Cherise Teases (TH) & an “Eleanor Rigby” (The Beatles) Tease (TH)
- $ – With a Black Throated Wind Jam (may become a separate track)
- % – Unfinished (no drum solo). Led Zeppelin Cover, not played since 2015-04-22 First Avenue, Minneapolis, MN, a gap of 79 shows
- ^ – First Time Played by Almost Dead, included lyrics
- & – Not played since 2015-02-17 State Theater, Portland, ME, a gap of 84 shows
- * – First Time Played by Almost Dead, included a short He’s Gone Jam
- + – With a “Stranger Things” (Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein from the band Survive) tease (MB). Yes, the Netflix series Stranger Things.
- @@ – With “The Simpsons Theme” (Danny Elfman) teases (SM & DD) & Terrapin Teases (TH & MB)
- $$ – Not played since 2015-12-31 The Fillmore, Philadelphia, PA, a gap of 42 shows
- %% – Not played since 2013-01-26 Brooklyn Bowl, Brooklyn, NY, a gap of 100 shows. Dave broke a string on the Alembic & played his Gibson SG
Setlist: Joe Russo's Almost Dead - Brooklyn Bowl - 03.11.17
Set One: Jam @ -> Cassidy # -> Let It Grow Jam ->
Born Cross Eyed Jam $ -> Tennessee Jed % -> Jam %% -> Chuckles ^ -> Tequila & -> Chuckles Reprise ^ -> Big River > Box Of Rain, Althea (TH) * > Throwing Stones (SM)
Set Two: Deal > Good Lovin + -> Summer Nights Jam @@ -> Good Lovin’ Reprise -> Heartbreaker Jam ## -> Cumberland Blues $$ -> Terrapin Station -> The Other One Jam -> Terrapin Suite ^^
Encore: One More Saturday Night (SM)
@ – With a China>Rider Transition Jam Tease (TH)
# – Unfinished
$ – With “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” (Bob Dylan) Teases (Band)
% – With a Spoonful Tease (SM) & a lengthy Marco Solo that included “Chopsticks” that could become its own track
%% – With “Big River” teases
^ – WOLF!! Original, First Time Played By Almost Dead
& – The Champs Original, First Time Played By Almost Dead
* – With a “So What” (Miles Davis) Tease (SM) & a full band “All of my Love” (Led Zeppelin) Jam that could become its own track
+ – With a back & forth between Marco & Scott that teased numerous jazz standards including “St. Thomas” (Sonny Rollins) & “Four” (Miles Davis)
@@ – Olivia Newton-John & John Travolta / Grease Soundtrack Original, (AKA Summer Lovin’ – written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey). First Time Played By Almost Dead
## – Led Zeppelin Original, First Time Played By Almost Dead
$$ – With a “Heartbreaker” (Led Zeppelin) Tease (DD) & a Slipknot! Jam (Band)