The Yale air was heavy with emotion—and rain!—on Friday night in New Haven, CT as Joe Russo’s Almost Dead prepared to take the stage at Westville Music Bowl for the band’s first show in front of a live audience in 461 days.
While live music might not scientifically rank with air, food, and water, none of those things are as vital for good living from a mental health perspective as the soul nourishment of a proper concert.
There have certainly been gatherings centered around music in the past fourteen months, but we’ve now reached a tipping point with the removal of mask mandates and the continued vaccination campaign, and last night marked the symbolic beginning of what hopes to be an extended reunion celebration this year.
Memorial Day weather is always a crapshoot, so while warm and sunny skies would have been nice, the consistent heavy rain had nothing on the pent-up emotion released on both sides of the rail on Friday night: maskless hugs, toothy grins, uninhibited joy—and lots and lots of dancing.
While recent bookings of full-capacity concerts indicate a return to relative normalcy on the horizon, this three-night JRAD run was scheduled as a COVID-era show with all the benefits of social distancing (read: civility and plenty of room to spread your wings). Pods. Always. Win.
The setup at Westville Music Bowl has been previously covered, but for those who may not be aware, this converted outdoor tennis center is a modern haven for jam bands, with incredible sound and sightlines, a lush, turf floor, and a slew of exciting bookings to match.
The year-plus wait for the next JRAD show had been long, and an assortment of “Shakedown Streets” by an array of bands didn’t do much to scratch that itch. Any inner worries that I may be tiring of my favorite catalog, however, were dispelled quickly and emphatically when JRAD hit the stage.
Catharsis: the purification and purgation of emotions through art or any extreme change in emotion that results in renewal and restoration; the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions.
Live music is a collection of moments, a series of ebbs and flows that rides the rollercoaster of emotion. Sharing those moments with people you love elevates the experience to heights that words cannot reach.
Heading into the encore break on February 23rd, 2020, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead’s last show in front of fans, a packed house at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY serenaded the band: “You know our love will not fade away!” Fourteen months later, in what would prove to be the ultimate tension and release, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead aptly opened last night’s show with the familiar chords of “Not Fade Away”, and that love pervaded the evening.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “Not Fade Away” [Pro-Shot] – 5/28/21
Tom Hamilton Jr., whose tone has evolved with a sense of ferocity over the break, was relentless out of the gate as Marco Benevento tickled the ivories, his trademark grin wide from ear to ear. Keeping score with JRAD is always a task, and in that spirit, what appeared to be “Scarlet Begonias” took an abrupt turn as it morphed into a celebratory “Reuben & Cerise”. After a raucous peak, the music briefly slowed and there was an audible gasp, the crowd visibly coming to terms with the band’s vitality.
JRAD consistently gives you what you need when you don’t even know you need it, and the “New Minglewood Blues” that followed underscores that point. The enthusiastic crowd lost its collective mind as Scott Metzger stole the show like only he can, his unmistakable tone tugging directly on the crowd’s heart strings.
“Sugaree” was next, played for the just the first time in 82 shows (last played 1/13/18), its lyrics ironically reminding me that the weather was the furthest thing from my mind: “You know, in spite of all you gained, you still had to stand out in the pouring rain.”
After the sing-along outro came a signature JRAD ambient jam that to the uninitiated may have lacked direction, but culminated in an otherwise obvious destination: “It’s ‘The Wheel’,” one friend commented, “It’s ‘The Wheel’, it’s always ‘The Wheel.’”
Dave Dreiwitz provided both the thunder and lightning on the low end as the band then teased “Cold Rain & Snow” (ha!) before ending the set with “Touch Of Grey”, another highly appropriate lyrical nod to both the moment, the night, and life in general.
I took a moment to soak up my surroundings, feeling the lyrics as I took in the totality of the scene and observed an eleven-year-old fan taking a turn on the center rail. Knowing that this young fan had just traveled from Florida with his parents after having won a Little League World Series championship, I was overwhelmed with a heavy sense of emotion. This band. These people. These stories. There’s only one word that rises to the challenge: family.
After a brief intermission, the second set began with just the second-ever JRAD version of Bob Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece” (first in 134 shows; last played 2016-11-12), a sultry affair behind Metzger’s vocals. The crowd was reminded that the interplay between band members is often as entertaining as the music itself as Scott literally threw a B3 solo to Marco with a nod of his head.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “When I Paint My Masterpiece” [Pro-Shot] – 5/28/21
“Foolish Heart” was next, torrid and steamy, epitomizing the essence of JRAD as it fired outward in concentric circles from Joe Russo’s drum kit, Hamilton leaning in to his partner in crime for the duration.
A vicious combo ensued from the madness: “Slipknot” > “Help On The Way” > “Slipknot!” > “Hey Bulldog Jam” > “Slipknot!” Reprise, and that doesn’t even include “Elizabeth Reed” and “Tom’s Diner” teases. The “Help” was fierce and highly danceable, the “Slipknot!” epic and filled with questions—namely those of the ‘what’s next?’ variety.
Though I admit to penciling “Hell In A Bucket” into my setlist with a question mark, this band once again reconfigured the order of my long-term memories, reminding me that thirty-year-old setlist memories have no place at a JRAD show. Scott Metzger was a man possessed and “Bucket” was something to behold—still looking forward to the “Franklin’s”, though.
“Dancing In The Street” was another one for the ages, water coming down hard from the sky above as the crowd collectively leaned into its best “Rain? Who cares?” attitude while the band worked in the Grateful Dead’s signature ‘74 jam, a “Loose Lucy” tease, filthy work from DD on the bass, and a Duo-esque Marco segment.
On a night full of memories, perhaps the finest was an arm-in-arm sing along to “Ripple” that seemingly involved every person in attendance. Huddled in close with the people I love, dripping wet, audible rain adding a percussive element as we sang from the top of our lungs, the moment remains as hair-raising in the light of day as it was on this cold, damp night.
As the crowd shared its enthusiastic appreciation, Joe Russo introduced the band before a brief encore break. Returning shortly after with Chris Harford in tow, Russo informed the crowd that the band would like a mulligan from their last live encore, alluding to Jimmy Fallon’s antics that marred the band’s encore performance of Neil Young’s “Fuckin’ Up” at their last live show at the Capitol Theater over a year prior.
Holy moly, did JRAD ever take a mulligan and turn it into an eagle. I’m really trying to avoid platitudes here, and it’s worth noting that I’ve seen both Uncle Neil and Pearl Jam perform this song live, but that ten minutes of rock and roll was the best that I can remember in a long, long time.
It has been suggested that emotional situations can elicit physiological, behavioral, cognitive, expressive, and subjective changes in individuals and, furthermore, that individuals seek social outlets in an attempt to restore personal homeostatic balance. In the proposed emotional stages of social sharing, directly after emotional effects, the emotions are shared. Through sharing, there is a reciprocal stimulation of emotions and emotional communion, leading to a renewed trust in life, strength, and self-confidence.
Upon the scaffolding of live music, we come together to heal. Experiencing these moments live and reliving them through the written word are the sum total of both my renewal and my restoration.
20,972 steps, every one the very definition of catharsis.
The Memorial Day Weekend run continues tonight with night two of three at Westville Music Bowl. For a full list of upcoming Joe Russo’s Almost Dead tour dates, head here.
Scroll down to check out the Box Score of the show courtesy of Peter Costello and gallery of photos from the show courtesy of photographer Andrew Blackstein.
Setlist/Box Score: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead | Westville Music Bowl | New Haven, CT | 5/28/20
Set One (6:30PM – 7:57PM)
Not Fade Away @ ->
Ruben & Cherise ->
New Minglewood Blues
The Wheel $ ->
Touch Of Grey %
Set Two (8:20PM – 9:5?PM)
When I Paint My Masterpiece ^
Foolish Heart & ->
Help On The Way ->
Slipknot! * -> Hey Bulldog Jam + -> Slipknot! Reprise
Hell In A Bucket
Dancing in the Street @@
Fuckin’ Up $$
@ – With a “Serpentine Fire” (Earth Wind & Fire) teasse (SM)
# – Not played by Almost Dead since 2018-01-13, The Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, NY, a gap of 82 shows.
$ – With a “Cold Rain & Snow” Jam (Band)
% – With “Ruben & Cherise” Teases in the intro (TH)
^ – Bob Dylan Cover, second time played. Not played by Almost Dead since 2016-11-12, Fox Theater, Oakland, CA, a gap of 134 shows. This was the first performance with Scott Metzger on vocals. Bob Weir handled vocals on the Oakland version.
& – With Slipknot! Teases (TH)
* – With a “Tom’s Diner” (Suzanne Vega) Tease (SM & JR)
+ – With some lyrics. Not played by Almost Dead since 2016-11-12, Fox Theater, Oakland, CA, a gap of 134 shows
@@ – Proceeded by a Dark Star Tease, with a Loose Lucy Tease (SM), a DD Solo, an MB Solo, hints of “The Wizard” (Black Sabbath), and a JR Solo
## – Not played by Almost Dead since 2019-01-18, The Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, NY, a gap of 44 shows
$$ – Neil Young Cover, with Chris Harford on Vocals and Guitar
Pre Show Music: Costello’s Prince Spotify Playlist
Set Break Music: Costello’s Early Springsteen Spotify Playlist
Walk Out Music: “Highway to Hell” (ACDC) & “We’re an American Band” (Grand Funk Railroad)
Poster: Bailey Race