There are Grateful Dead cover bands, and then there’s Joe Russo’s Almost Dead.

Officially and ostensibly, JRAD is a Dead cover band. Their sets consist almost exclusively of songs spun and sung by Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, and the rest of the most legendary jam band of all time.

That was certainly the case on a cozy Friday night in late October when Joe, singer-guitarists Scott Metzger and Tom Hamilton, keyboardist Marco Benevento and bassist Dave Dreiwitz returned to Los Angeles, CA with a mind-bending double feature in front of a sea of souls swaying beneath the lights inside the Hollywood Palladium. From “Estimated Prophet” and “He’s Gone” to “Playing in the Band” and “Feel Like a Stranger,” JRAD’s nearly three hours of jolly romping were chock-full of Deadhead favorites.

Related: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead Cancels Hulaween Appearance, Umphrey’s McGee To Fill In

The setlist also featured staples that the Dead subsumed into their catalog from other artists, including Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” as the opener and “Samson & Delilah”—which traces all the way back to Blind Willie Johnson’s 1927 song, “If I Had My Way I’d Tear The Building Down”, and beyond with centuries of church choirs. The band turned the Dead’s rendition of Elmore James’ “It Hurts Me Too” into an epic jam-off between Marco on keys and Scott on guitar, with Tom chiming in at the lower registers of his axe.

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “It Hurts Me Too” (Elmore James) – 10/22/21

But JRAD didn’t limit their on-stage homages to songs either by the Dead or that the Dead would’ve done back in the day. They slipped in the instrumentals from Pink Floyd’s “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” as a bridge between “Crazy Fingers” and “He’s Gone” during the first set. Upon returning from their set break, Joe and Co. queued up Dire Straits’ “Romeo and Juliet”, and closed the second set by turning an earlier tease of The Allman Brothers’ “Jessica” into an epic, full-blown mashup with Jerry Garcia’s “Cats Under the Stars” that powered on for the better part of an hour.

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “Romeo and Juliet” (Dire Straits), “Feel Like A Stranger” – 10/22/21

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “Romeo and Juliet” (Dire Straits), “Feel Like A Stranger” – 10/22/21

[Video: Rich Saputo]

Beyond song choice, JRAD has always and continues to set itself apart from and within the realm of the Grateful with a style all their own. Between Joe’s percussive power at the center of the band’s soundscape, Scott and Tom’s metallic-tinged guitar work, and Marco’s pseudo-psychedelic finger dances on the keys, JRAD still manages to crank up the weight of the music without getting bogged down by nostalgia—and without the benefit of regularly scheduled forays into “Drums” and “Space”, for that matter.

So it was that, two months after their original return date was for (and moved from) the Wiltern—and more than two years following their last visit to L.A. at the Greek Theatre—Joe Russo’s Almost Dead demonstrated the same deft hand and distinct style that has allowed this quintet of talented musicians to at once please the massive following into which it has tapped and transcend a singular scenic label, even (if not especially) the one that the band has affixed to itself.

Indeed, JRAD is more than a Dead cover band. It is, has long been, and (hopefully) shall forever remain a brilliant rock ensemble that just so happens to specialize in covers of songs crafted by its partial namesake, as well as those of other artists whose work has earned such consideration and worthiness along the way.

Scroll down for a gallery of images from the Joe Russo’s Almost Dead performance at Hollywood Palladium courtesy of Brandon Weil, and check out a full setlist from the show below.

Following Saturday night’s show at Frost Amphitheater in Stanford, PA, JRAD’s schedule is clear until a one-off performance at 1stBank Center in Broomfield, CO on Friday, December 3rd. For a full list of upcoming Joe Russo’s Almost Dead tour dates, head here.

Setlist: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead | Hollywood Palladium | Los Angeles, CA | 10/22/21

Set One: Jam > Hard to Handle (Otis Redding), Dupree’s Diamond Blues (Grateful Dead) > Estimated Prophet (Grateful Dead),  Lost Sailor jam > Jessica Jam > Crazy Fingers (Grateful Dead), Sheep (Pink Floyd), He’s Gone (Grateful Dead), Playing in the Band (Grateful Dead)

Set Two: Romeo and Juliet (Dire Straits), Feel Like A Stranger (Grateful Dead), It Hurts Me Too (Héctor Varela), The Eleven (Grateful Dead), Cats Under the Stars (Jerry Garcia Band), Jessica (The Allman Brothers Band)

Encore: Samson and Delilah (traditional)