Last night, the unstoppable live music force that is Joe Russo’s Almost Dead took their victory lap in New York City, completing their 6-night sold-out residency at Brooklyn Bowl, the outfit’s de facto “home floor.” The band’s Saturday evening performance was also the their third of three performances with bassist Oteil Burbridge (Dead & Company, Allman Brothers) subbing in for Dave Dreiwitz, who is in Chicago with Ween for their three-night St. Paddy’s weekend run. Despite playing with an unfamiliar lineup, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead delivered impeccable shows on Thursday and Friday night, and final night of the run proved to be just as powerful.
In the wake of the news that the legendary Chuck Berry had passed away at the age of 90 earlier in the day, the band opened with a take on Berry’s “Promised Land” to an eruption of applause. You can watch the band’s show-opening tribute to the late icon below via the band’s Facebook page, thanks to nugs.tv:
The momentum stayed high as the crowd sang along with a celebratory “Golden Road,” which eventually made its way into “Hell In A Bucket.” The packed house “enjoyed the ride” as the band pushed the tune into exploratory jam space before bleeding into “Here Comes Sunshine.” The sunny-feeling favorite off the Dead’s ’73 album Wake of the Flood marked the beginning of an incredible set-closing run that proved to be a highlight of the performance.
After working through the song’s structure, the band found their way into a slow, jazzy improv space, before subtle notes of a familiar (though un-“Dead”) tune began to bubble to the surface. The band had teased “Jessica” the previous night before during a beautiful “Eyes of the World,” and as the distinctive opening chords and drum fill for the Allman Brothers Band‘s instrumental “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” reverberated, everyone in attendance braced themselves: Would this be another Allmans jam or tease? Or were they gonna dive headfirst into the classic composition? Those questions were answered as the song’s iconic guitar riff rang out, the opening notes barely audible over the elated cheers from the crowd. You can watch footage of the band’s amazing rendition of “Elizabeth Reed” below, courtesy of YouTube user LazyLightning55a:
“Liz Reed” eventually segued back into the previous tune, providing a “Here Comes Sunshine Reprise” (featuring an electrifying “Duo Jam” by Marco Benevento and Joe Russo) to round out a must-hear jam sandwich. Finally, solid renditions of “Ruben & Cherise” and “Viola Lee Blues” (featuring a pronounced “China Cat Sunflower” tease) with help from tenor saxophonist Stuart Bogie rounded out the evening’s first set.
As they are known to do, the band returned to the stage for set two with a loose, spacey intro jam, prompting guesses as to what song was coming. When the band finally landed on the opening notes of “Casey Jones,” the crowd exploded with excitement. “Casey Jones” served as another must-hear highlight from the performance, as the band steadily picked up steam, barreling down the tracks at high speed for what became a truly memorable rendition of the Grateful Dead hit. Oteil led the way for this stellar “Casey” jam, laying down a sparse, funky groove that served as a launching pad for some excellent call-and-response riffing by Benevento and guitarist Scott Metzger. You can watch the set-opening Casey Jones below via the band’s Facebook page, thanks to nugs.tv:
A pretty run through “Jack A Roe” with Tom Hamilton on vocals followed, before Stuart Bogie once again joined the band onstage for a run through “Dancing In The Streets,” one of many tunes from the Grateful Dead’s arsenal that has taken on new life in the JRAD setting. The “Dancing” jam featured a number of expertly-inserted teases, including Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough,” and Huey Lewis % The News’ “I Want A New Drug.”
“Franklin’s Tower” came next, giving the crowd a chance to joyously sing along before the band dove into a “Let It Grow” “suite” that would comprise most of the remainder of set two. First, a creative “Let It Grow Jam” established the song’s theme, before the band dove into a jam on Led Zeppelin‘s “That’s The Way,” marking the band’s first-ever performance of the tune. “That’s The Way” found its way back to “Let It Grow,” which gave Russo and company a chance to showcase their mastery of the material. The band brought the tempo–and the volume–down as low as they could and built it back up to epic heights for the song’s “I am” refrain, in addition to teasing The Band‘s “Chest Fever.” Next, they embarked on a jam on the Talking Heads‘ “Girlfriend Is Better,” another JRAD debut, before again returning to “Let It Grow” to round out a fantastic segment. Finally, a soaring “I Know You Rider” brought the set to a close.
Before the encore, promoter and Brooklyn Bowl owner Pete Shapiro came onstage to thank the crowd and longtime Bowl manager Sean Aiken who is leaving his longtime position. As Shapiro mentioned, Aiken has run Brooklyn Bowl from the beginning of the Joe Russo’s Almost Dead era, and helped facilitate the growth of the band’s now-storied history at the Brooklyn venue.
After thanking Aiken, the band returned to the stage for a classic Dead encore pairing. First, Hamilton led the them through a tenderly beautiful “Brokedown Palace,” as you could hear pins drop in the packed-out room. Finally, all of the band members abandoned their instruments and headed front-and-center for an a cappella “We Bid You Goodnight.” As they reached the song’s final measures, the audience-sung “goodnight!”s morphed into emphatic “Oteil!” chants, to the visible delight of the band. Joe Russo’s Almost Dead performances are always incredible, but these three shows with Oteil were something special, and the audience an band alike were fully aware of the magic that went down this weekend at Brooklyn Bowl.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead is heading to the 2nd annual Fool’s Paradise on March 31st and April 1st in sunny St. Augustine, FL, with special guest keyboardist Jeff Chimenti. Oteil Burbridge will also be on site as an Artist-at-Large, prompting fans to wonder if perhaps there is a “Joe Russo’s Almost Dead & Company” collaboration in the cards. The Grateful Dead enthusiasts will join hosts Lettuce and bands like The Floozies, The Motet, and The Main Squeeze. More information can be found here.