The storm was already rolling in by the time that Joe Russo’s Almost Dead took the stage at the sold-out Ogden Theatre in Denver last night—a storm that was the source of much trouble this week, forcing the Thursday announcement that the group’s headlining performance at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, supported by Medeski, Martin, & Wood, would be moved indoors to 1st Bank Center. Despite this, the packed house at the Ogden and the members of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead were clearly in high spirits and ready to celebrate the group’s return to Colorado.
From the start of the first song, “Jack Straw,” on, it was clear that Almost Dead was primed for their two-night Colorado run and that they weren’t going to let anything snow on their parade. Tom Hamilton’s crooning on the opening number made way for an ambient jam from which the classic American Beauty track “Truckin’” materialized, with the upbeat number getting the whole mass of folks groovin’ and feelin’ good. A melodic solo by keyboard extraordinaire Marco Benevento lead “Truckin’” into its jam, during which Dave Dreiwitz, Scott Metzger, Hamilton, and Benevento traded off solos rapid fire, eventually culminating in Hamilton and Metzger’s dual guitars simultaneously sharing the lead to move back into the song’s refrain.
“Viola Lee Blues” was up next, harkening back to the last time the group played the Ogden in December, during which the breezy number and its similarly feel-good predecessor “Truckin” made appearances toward the beginning of the first set. Benevento did not cease up on the keys, hammering through to a slow build-up along with Joe Russo into a “Hear Comes Sunshine”-themed jam—a debut for Almost Dead—before the group made a jubilant return to “Truckin’.”
Metzger lead the charge into the next song, Almost Dead’s debut of a cover of “Tell Me Mama,” which saw Metzger sing the Bob Dylan original and ended on a soaring guitar solo by Hamilton. The song abruptly dropped into “China Cat Sunflower,” another high-energy crowd-pleaser, which segued into an eerie and discordant jam that resolved with a shimmering key change. To the delight of the crowd, the group then went straight into their cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City,” a classic song that perfectly complements Hamilton’s voice and that had the entire audience singing along.
I know this isn’t a Dead Cover, but I’ve been waiting to catch a show where they covered #atlanticcity by The Boss. #eastcoastkid #jrad #ogdentheatre #denver #colorado #jam #liveforlivemusic #gratefuldead #tribute #incrediblesisalifestyle @joerussosalmostdead @ogdentheatre @joeyjoeyrusso @marcobenevento22 @davedreiwitz @scottymetz @ambabies
Almost Dead’s cover of the Springsteen track was climactic and expansive, with the jam following the song keeping the house on their toes as Hamilton’s guitar worked in tastes of the melody of “China Cat.” However, the band didn’t go back into “China Cat,” instead closing out their first set with “I Know You Rider,” thus giving nods to the standard Grateful Dead combo “China Cat > Rider” as well as to their October 2015 performance at New York’s Brooklyn Bowl that saw the group use the Springsteen song as a springboard into “Rider.” It was a perfect close to the spirited first set and saw huge cheers from the crowd as Tom Hamilton sang the triumphant and timely line, “I’d shine my light through the cool Colorado rain.”
For the second set, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead started things off slow and sweet, kicking off a jam that slowly morphed into the soulful tune, “Lost Sailor,” then picked up in tempo with the classic transition into “Saint of Circumstance.” The ever-pleasing “Scarlet Begonias” was up next, with the beloved tune invoking the audience to sing along, before Almost Dead changed things up with their first-ever original song, “Keeping It Simple,” which was debuted at the Brooklyn Bowl in honor of their 100th show. The jam leading out of the original number, “Keeping It Simple” was led primarily by the rhythm section, with Dreiwitz stepping forward to shine on bass before a stellar drum solo by Russo lead into “Fire On The Mountain.”
The tune is consistently a crowd pleaser whenever it’s played within the mountainous state of Colorado, and last night’s performance was no different, with the whole audience dialed in with the band, who was clearly feeling the groove as well. After Metzger’s crisp opening guitar solo, Hamilton and Benevento shared the lead with the two’s parallel playing leading straight to the peak of the jam. From this point on, things began to get silly, and there was a distinct air of playfulness among all the band members on stage. Driven out of the jam by Russo’s jazzy drums, Hamilton moved into the last verse of “Fire On The Mountain,” at points choking back laughter as Benevento added quick embellishments on the keys following each of Hamilton’s lines, eventually eliciting Russo to throw his head back in laughter following the second or third time Marco interjected his cascading adornments.
For “Dancing In The Streets” and the rest of the set, multi-instrumentalist Stuart Bogie of Antibalas and Superhuman Happiness fame came out to join the quintet on sax, an addition Almost Dead has seen previously during this year’s run at the Brooklyn Bowl. The disco-esque and dancey nature of the tune was enhanced with the addition of the horn and Benevento’s electronic-tinged, percussive playing. Again, Benevento was all giggles, at a point pausing his playing briefly to catch his breath. The group sandwiched the debut of Medeski, Martin, & Wood’s “Bubblehouse”—a nod to their support for tonight’s show at 1st Bank—within “Dancing.” The huge jam portion within this sandwich alternated between impressive drum and bass solos and the group coming together with each return in a markedly different style—Tom Hamilton also reaffirmed himself as a champion, shredding so hard that his glasses fell off, playing blind until the reprise of “Dancing In The Streets.”
To close out the set, the band moved into “Franklin’s Tower,” with Benevento taking the reins and charging into the jam. As the group moved through the song, Bogie and Metzger’s intertwining features,, and later Bogie and Hamilton’s dueling sax an guitar, were a welcome addition as the song built to a cacophonous close. Joe Russo took a moment to thank the crowd for being so understanding about the venue change for tonight’s show from Red Rocks, noting the band is just as disappointed as they were, though after their fiery performance, no one in the crowd seemed too concerned. “U.S. Blues” closed out the show as the group’s encore. The spirited song was an uplifting way to end the night, with special guest Stuart Bogie starting off on sax but jogging off mid-song and reappearing with a clarinet.
For their 107th show, last night’s performance by Joe Russo’s Almost Dead was an exceptional example of why the group is so beloved and frequently lauded as one of the best ensembles keeping the music of the Grateful Dead alive. The group’s technical abilities as individuals and a unit are obvious, but beyond that, there is always an air of lightheartedness and a spirit of innovation coursing through each performance and at the heart of the band. That same liveliness is sure to be present at tonight’s show at the 1st Bank Center to close out the group’s two-day Colorado run, as will it be when the group returns to Colorado (unfortunately sans bassist Dave Dreiwitz, though with addition of the legendary Oteil Burbridge of the Allman Brothers and Dead & CO in his stead) for their rescheduled Red Rocks debut on Thursday, August 31st. Check out the setlist below, courtesy of Peter Costello. You can also check out a gallery of photos from last night’s show, courtesy of Andrew Rios.
Setlist: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead | Ogden Theatre | Denver, CO | 4/28/2017
Set One (9:15PM – 10:31PM): Jackstraw > Truckin’ @, Viola Lee Blues #-> Here Comes Sunshine Jam $ -> Viola Lee Blues Reprise -> Tell Me, Momma % (SM) > China Cat Sunflower > Atlantic City -> Jam ^ -> I Know You Rider
Set Two (11:00PM – 12:10AM ish): Jam -> Lost Sailor -> Saint Of Circumstance &, Scarlet Begonias -> Keeping It Simple -> Fire On The Mountain, Dancing In The Streets * -> Bubblehouse * + -> Dancing In The Streets Reprise * ## -> Franklins Tower *
Encore: US Blues $$
Notes: @ – With an Other One Tease (Band) & a “Reveille” (Traditional) Tease (SM); # – With a “Duo Jam”; $ – First Time Played By Almost Dead; % – Bob Dylan Cover, First Time Played By Almost Dead; ^ – With Teases / Jams of “You Don’t Love Me” (Willie Cobb / Allman Brothers Band) and China Cat Sunflower (Band); & – With a “Sowing the Seeds of Love” (Tears for Fears) Jam (I THINK); * – With Stuart Bogie on Sax; + – Medeski Martin & Wood Cover, First Time Played By Almost Dead; ## – With a DD Bass Solo; $$ – With Stuart Bogie on Clarinet