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  • December 29th, 2013

    reCAP :: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead :: 2013.12.27

    Written By: Chadbyrne R. Dickens + Meredith Berke
    Photos by: Scott Harris + Dino Perucci

    “There is nothing like a Grateful Dead concert. Never will be.” –John Williams, The Grateful Dead Movie.

    12973797714_261cd939a0_bChad: There may be nothing like a Grateful Dead concert, but an exemplary tribute band experience may still trump any other option. Fittingly, the final weekend of music at The Capitol Theatre this year, the historic venue that the Grateful Dead played 18 times in 1970-71 alone and that includes the bar Garcia’s, would commence with the definitive Grateful Dead tribute experience. In only their 2nd performance ever, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead impressed an almost sold-out show of joyous revelers who were provided an exquisite opportunity to dance and sing along again with their favorite songs for a full two sets of improvisational music covering the greatest jamband in musical history. Friday, December 27th, 2013 was a night to remember.

    The core four of JRAD are Joe Russo (drums/FURTHUR), Marco Benevento (keys), Dave Dreiwitz (bass/Ween) and Scott Metzger (guitar/Wolf!). They are no strangers to delivering stellar tributes as they have been skewering Led Zeppelin tunes for a decade with Bustle in Your Hedgrow. With this incarnation, they added the talented Tommy Hamilton (guitar/Brothers Past) to forge a dual-guitar attack.

    There are 324 Grateful Dead cover bands in the U.S. according to www.gratefuldeadtributebands.com, which include quality outfits like FURTHUR, Dark Star Orchestra, Reflections, Splintered Sunlight, Dead Sessions, and Stella Blues Band. However, none is ultimately as fulfilling as Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. With original Grateful Dead members in Furthur, there is an expectation that can’t be realistically fulfilled, whereas JRAD surprises with crackling energy and new innovative approaches to the classics.

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    The band commenced the much-hyped show to an anticipatory and excitable crowd with the old rarity “Cream Puff War” which was not performed by the Grateful Dead regularly in later years but was debuted live on July 16, 1966. It segued into one of the highlights of the show, an intensely satisfying and near 30-minute raucous “Truckin'” that didn’t emulate the Dead’s known classic takes, but rather pushed the envelope into new unknown worlds in a seamless fashion as everyone was offered a chance to solo and experiment by going in new directions as the sound engulfed The Cap with the band so impeccably in synch as a cohesive unit.

    The band next led us though a bouncy and streamlined version of the early classic “Dupree’s Diamond Blues” before a tight transition into the dance-a-thon ditty “Cumberland Blues” which sent the crowd into a frenetic frenzy. The deliberate “Row Jimmy” was performed with an incendiary energy not known for that particular song, which built up into a crescendo during the chorus in “Bertha” that followed. A fiery and momentous first set closed with one of the bands most popular songs “Shakedown Street.” The disco anthem from 1978 was a tantalizing treat and best demonstrated the prowess of the professional musicians on stage. A rehearsal video of the tune had been leaked days prior to the show and anyone who witnessed it beforehand was not surprised by the memorable performance. The band took a happy and fast approach to the funky and fun Hunter-penned classic complete with free-form jams everyone one turned. To witness Marco pounding away on the keys, one could only fantasize how he arguably would have been the best keyboard player of the previous five honored enough to have a seat behind the ivories for the iconic band. After a scorching first set, complete with rare covers and classic favorites, it is safe to say no one was planning to leave early to beat the traffic, but rather hoped the adventure would continue deep into the New Year.

    Meredith: Second set started with a dark, trippy “Space” — Russo rattling the gong, Hamilton and Metzger tickling their guitars. There was a touch of a drum solo before Benevento exploded on the keys, and the guitars reached a crescendo before blasting off into “Scarlet Begonias.” There were many teases of different songs in each of their jams, which was half the fun of the show. I heard “I Know You Rider” and was positive we were going to hear it next, before they tightly dropped into “Fire on the Mountain.” The Cap was hot and steamy from the energy coming off the stage, and the dancing on the floor, as a swirl of liquid light melted off the walls, literally.

    Russo and the boys were on fire with a spirit of the Grateful Dead from the early 1970s. This song drifted to places unknown and it ended with roaring applause and screaming appreciation from the crowd. The heated energy continued with “Playin’ in the Band.” Metzger sang, and Hamilton played lead guitar. The interplay between these two guitarists was fun to watch — both musicians highly talented in their own right, and they effortlessly played off each other all night long. We went back into Space that turned deep. They teased “The Eleven/The Other One” before they went into another long, crazy space/fusion jam. Fast and furious, Russo was kicking it hard and throwing drumsticks, tambourines, and other odd percussion pieces into the air behind him. JRAD then took us into a heavy rock jam, before sliding back into “Playin’.”

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    Hamilton snagged the lead vocals for “Althea,” and what a sweet “Althea” it was. Metzger crushed the lead on guitar and there was a beautifully fast-paced exploration with Benevento highlighting the powerful beat of Russo and Dreiwitz. “Lovelight” followed with Benevento hammering out chords on the organ. Russo had an extended drum solo during the bouncy jam and the crowd was singing along loudly. Smiling hippies, everywhere you looked. JRAD then stopped the music for a moment before we heard the evening’s big gun — a thunderous twenty-eight minute “Terrapin Station Suite.” Beginning with “Lady with a Fan,” which was a slow, sexy saunter as they plucked and teased the beginning of the Suite, which ended with “Terrapin Station-> At A Siding-> Terrapin Flyer.” After a short break for the band, and for us, we were treated to a heartfelt “Brokedown Palace” encore.

    In the afterglow of this great show, there was the realization that the torch had been passed. There is now a new standard for Grateful Dead cover bands. Joe Russo has transformed his experience with FURTHUR into Almost Dead. The results are beautiful.

    Set One: Cream Puff War -> Truckin’ -> Dupree’s Diamond Blues -> Cumberland Blues, Row Jimmy, Bertha, Easy Wind -> Shakedown Street
    Set Two: Space -> Scarlet Begonias -> Fire On The Mountain, Playin’ In The Band, Althea, Lovelight, Terrapin Station Suite
    Encore: Brokedown Palace

    The Capitol Theatre Photo Gallery

    Photos by: Scott Harris + Dino Perucci