Joe Russo’s Almost Dead has left an undeniable mark on the Grateful Dead‘s legacy, favored as one of the top post-Jerry act to see live. In 2017, the band, led by Joe Russo and featuring Marco Benevento, Tom Hamilton, Dave Dreiwitz, and Scott Metzger, celebrated many momentous occasions, including performing their 100th show in May at Brooklyn Bowl, selling out their headlining Red Rocks debut in August, and welcoming an enviable list of musicians from John Mayer to Jim James to Bob Weir on stage across the year.
Over the weekend, the band kicked off their 2018 in style, laying out a spectacular three-night run at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York. Ahead of these shows, Live For Live Music got the chance to speak to longtime friends and collaborators and current Almost Dead bandmates, Scott Metzger and Dave Dreiwitz, about another performance they have on the books—a co-billed show on Friday, February 9th, featuring Metzger’s WOLF! and Dreiwitz’s Crescent Moon at Garcia’s at The Capitol. (Tickets and more information available here.)
For the second of this special two-part interview series, our own Sam Berenson was lucky enough to get to sit down with bassist Dave Dreiwitz. In addition to chatting about his upcoming Crescent Moon show, Dreiwitz talked about the long-standing history of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead’s members, his first Grateful Dead show, a number of boognish-related topics, and more. Read on to learn more, plus check out our companion interview with Scott Metzger here.
Live for Live Music: Tell me about your first time playing The Capitol Theatre?
Dave Dreiwitz: I believe the first time I played The Capitol was Joe Russo’s Almost Dead’s second show in 2013. I mean, that place is a just a magical temple of rock music, and it’s one of the greatest venues I’ve had the fortune to play at. All the shows I’ve seen there have been amazing. All my favorite artists play there; YES, King Crimson, and Cheap Trick all played there this past fall. It’s always great—the sound, the vibe—it’s just the greatest. I’m a really lucky guy.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, “Cream Puff War” > “Truckin'” > “Dupree’s”, The Capitol Theatre, 12/27/2013
[Video: JoeRussos AlmostDead]
L4LM: Can you talk a little bit about your upcoming show at Garcia’s with your side project Crescent Moon and sort of what you two are all about?
Dave Dreiwitz: Crescent Moon is a bass-and-drums duo that’s kind of an experimental kind of punk-rock, rock-and-roll band (laughs). I play all the tunes on the bass—there’s just a drummer. They’re all songs that have been performed in a former duo of mine called Instant Death—this is really “Crescent Moon plays Instant Death.” Instant Death was a band that I had with a great drummer, who was the primary songwriter, and he passed away in 2005. We had the group from about 1991 up until 2005, and we made a pact back then that we would play music for the rest of our lives, and of course, that ended with his passing.
Before I joined Ween, the guys in the band were big fans of Instant Death, and they invited us to open up for them on their very successful “Chocolate and Cheese Tour” in 1995. We did about eighteen shows with them playing in huge places, and it was just amazing. Then I would sit and watch Ween play and was just in absolute awe—it was like seeing Led Zeppelin play for me, who I had never seen—because I was such a big fan and knew all of the music, and then eventually they asked me to play with them!
Crescent Moon, “Instant Death Theme”, Bowery Ballroom, 9/20/2017
L4LM: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead has reached heights beyond people’s wildest dreams and become a favorite Grateful Dead act to see. What do you think has contributed to the band’s long-term success?
Dave Dreiwitz: The chemistry stems from a few things. Scott [Metzger], Joe [Russo], Marco [Benevento], and I knew each other ten years before Almost Dead. I met them in 2004—it’s all a funny story. I know Scott because he’s from the same town that Ween is from. I met him when he was in high school working in a health foods store, and I come from a jazz background studying at Rutgers and playing upright bass. So I walk into the health foods store and Scott had his guitar out at work practicing jazz tunes. I go up to him and say, “I just moved here after recently joining Ween. We should get together and play some jazz together.” We never ended up doing this, but we stayed friendly and would occasionally play together with our good friend Chris Harford. Joe, Scott, and I play with him quite often actually, and we’re all playing a show with him in Jersey the weekend of the 19th.
Chris Harford’s Band Of Changes (ft. Joe Russo, Dave Dreiwitz, & Scott Metzger), Garcia’s at The Capitol, 1/2/2016
[Video: Joe Madonna]
Dave Dreiwitz: Anywho, Scott and I were buddies occasionally playing together, and I started reading about The Benevento/Russo Duo in The New York Times. They hyped up this new, cool project, and their name kept popping up. I had talked to Scott, and he told me that they had put together an instrumental Led Zeppelin band, and if they didn’t have a bass player, Marco would play the basslines with his left hand on the organ. I found this super cool!
Then Ween was playing at Jazz Fest in 2004; I think it was a co-bill with Medeski, Martin & Wood and Ween—those guys are pretty wild, and I guess it made sense to somebody. We did that show, and Joe had a buddy of his bring him backstage. I said to him, “I’ve been hearing about your band, the Benevento/Russo Duo, and I know you have that instrumental band that plays Led Zeppelin with Scotty.” I told him, “ You guys ever want a bass player, I know all that shit!” I guess Joe took that like, “The bass player from Ween wants to play with us,” and all that started something really amazing.
Bustle In Your Hedgerow, “Dazed And Confused”, Brooklyn Bowl, 1/27/2012
Dave Dreiwitz: We would only play a few times a year and host this special event, but there was an instant chemistry that happened. I think a part of that was us all being from New Jersey, us all loving Led Zeppelin. Joe, Scott and I are also all from the same county. I’m a little bit older than those guys, but they all went to high school together in New Jersey close to where I’m from, and the chemistry has just always been there.
When I’ve had time off from Ween tour, I’ve also played with American Babies as well as Marco Benevento’s Trio, so I’ve been on the road with all of these guys respectively a lot. There’s a lot of history with us all playing together. Before we ever played together as Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, we had chemistry together as a band—a bunch of bands!
It’s funny, if you play music for a while, you play with a bunch of different people, but when I started locking in with Joe as a rhythm section, we just had an immediate connection and a shared sense of where to lay it down. A rhythm section is a complicated thing. It’s like a relationship between two people; it either works or it doesn’t, and sometimes it just clicks. Joe and I have always had the click. Everything has just built as a band over the years.
L4LM: Do you have any memorable Grateful Dead shows or special shows to you?
Dave Dreiwitz: I actually saw the Grateful Dead once, and I believe it was in ’82. It was pretty memorable. I remember a bunch of songs—they did “U.S. Blues”, “Terrapin”, and even had Steven Stills to come out and play “Love the One You’re With”. The Dead though wasn’t my favorite band despite all my friends going and seeing them.
At the time, I was really heavily getting into jazz and going to see all my favorite jazz artists since I lived close to New York. I was seeing Jaco Pastorius, Pat Metheny, and all these amazing jazz gods. I would just go to see people I love, and that was such an amazing time to be around. You know Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke, who I still see all the time. That’s my Grateful Dead and what I go to see when they’re around. George Clinton I also go to see all the time, in fact, I’ve probably seen him more than anyone else. (laughs)
L4LM: So you guys played one original song as Joe Russo’s Almost Dead at your celebratory 100th show. Can fans expect the five of you to possibly spend some time in the studio in the near future?
DD: I don’t have an answer for you there. I’m sorry!
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, “Keeping It Simple” (original song), Brooklyn Bowl, 3/9/2017
L4LM: What was your favorite live show you saw in 2017?
Dave Dreiwitz: Wow! Um, probably King Crimson at the Capitol. As a King Crimson fan—and I’m an old, deep fan—that gave me everything that I could’ve ever wanted in a concert. As a fan, hearing so many classics that I never thought I’d get to hear in my lifetime, that was a real heavy one.
L4LM: With Ween back touring regularly, and Almost Dead crushing shows coast to coast, tell me about how you manage life between all of your musical endeavors and life at home?
DD: Very carefully. I try to fulfill all the needs—you know, I feel so honored that I’m called upon to play for so many people who love the music that I do. With Ween, it’s been 20 years now for me—well, actually, just became 21—so you know, that’s been such a huge part of my career. I try to do the best I can juggling booking and everything else. It’s not easy, but it sure is a beautiful thing, and I feel like a very lucky individual to be doing what I’m doing and to have people be so appreciative of the music. You know, the Ween fans have always been the most amazing fans, and the Almost Dead fans are just unbelievable. I don’t even know what to say. They treat us so nicely and respectfully and have so much love for the band. It’s really amazing.
[Photo: Ojeda Photography]