Hot off a two-night stand in Philadelphia, powerhouse tribute band Joe Russo’s Almost Dead brought its unique brand of whirlwind Grateful Dead music to The Anthem in Washington, D.C. on Saturday night.
The five-piece started things off with a bluesy warmup that soon coagulated into “Easy Wind” as the boys found their footing. Next up was “Feel Like a Stranger,” capped by a mean jam that built to a thunderous close. Bassist David Dreiwitz brought the band into “Cumberland Blues” with the song’s instantly recognizable uptempo bassline. After a quick tease of “China Cat Sunflower,” guitarist Tom Hamilton orchestrated the first instrumental section, taking off on a wild solo. JRAD tends to enter interesting rhythmic territory with its version of “Cumberland,” and this rendition was no exception, covering ground from the raucous double-time of the original to slow blues, jazz fusion, and back again. Drummer Joe Russo displayed characteristically enormous levels of energy, leading the song to a crashing finish.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – 9/28/2019 – Set 1 Opener
[Video: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead]
“Jack Straw” followed, featuring a standout solo from keyboardist Marco Benevento, still apparently buzzing from the recent release of his solo album Let It Slide. Hamilton then led the band into “Box of Rain” before ending the first set with one of the Dead’s earliest and most classic explorations, “Turn On Your Lovelight.”
JRAD kicked off the second set with a blistering jam that hinted at “The Music Never Stopped” before finally coming out with another early Dead tune, “Alligator,” featuring some especially prodigious guitar work from Scott Metzger. The band didn’t let up their energy, transitioning into “Me and My Uncle” and ending that tune with a hard stop.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – 9/28/2019 – Set 2 Opener
[Video: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead]
Suddenly “Scarlet Begonias” burst forth, with the band working together to increasingly up the ante of the roaring solo section. Before anyone knew what was happening, “Cream Puff War” was raging, its driving guitar riff drilling into the dancing crowd. The band followed this up with a cover of The Band’s “Ophelia” before the distinct sounds of Hamilton’s auto-wah guitar filter signaled the start of “Fire On the Mountain” to belatedly complete the classic “Scarlet/Fire” pairing. The interplay and conversation between Hamilton and Benevento here were particularly remarkable as they built the outro riff from “Scarlet Begonias” back into the jam. JRAD ended the second set with “Black Muddy River,” a gorgeous, somber song that was, unfortunately, played too fast to be emotionally moving.
Returning to the stage, Russo and the rest of the band thanked the audience before launching into “The Weight,” the second cover of The Band that night. Immediately afterwards, a storm of drums brought “Samson and Delilah” down upon the unexpecting audience. Finally, a cover of Spacehog’s “In the Meantime” brought the three-song encore and the show to a close.
For a band whose calling card is its high-energy shows, JRAD certainly didn’t disappoint on that front. In fact, this show may have had the opposite problem: it wasn’t as dynamic as it could have been regarding the flow of energy through the sets. There’s a lot of utility in placing mellower tunes at strategic places in a setlist, and sometimes JRAD will throw in a ballad like “Stella Blue” or “China Doll” to avoid dulling the effects of their frenetic jams. But, Saturday night’s sets raced along at breakneck speed without much relief, and JRAD’s members would do well to keep their set dynamics in mind. It is possible to have too much of a good thing.
That is, of course, a cherry-picked complaint in the context of the always-impressive innovation and musicianship that JRAD consistently demonstrates. These strong suits were on full display during their performance at The Anthem, and they’ll continue to be front and center when JRAD returns to tour next time.
Check out a gallery of photos from Saturday night’s show below courtesy of photographer Vic Brazen.
JRAD’s only currently scheduled concert is a performance at Live Oak, FL’s Suwannee Halloween on Sunday, October 27th. Head to Joe Russo’s Almost Dead’s website for ticketing and more information.
Setlist: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead | The Anthem | Washington, D.C. | 9/28/2019
Set One: Jam > Easy Wind, *Feel Like a Stranger, Cumberland Blues, Jam > Jack Straw, Box of Rain, Marco solo > &Turn On Your Love Light
Set Two: Alligator > Me and My Uncle, Scarlet Begonias > Cream Puff War > Ophelia > #Fire on the Mountain, %Black Muddy River
Encore: The Weight, Sampson and Delilah, +In The Meantime
*w/China Cat and Viola Lee Blues teases
&Marco on vocals
#w/ China Cat, Good Lovin’ and Tequila teases
% 1st time played