On Saturday night, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead and Medeski, Martin, & Wood hit the beyond-sold out 1st Bank Center in Broomfield, Colorado, marking Almost Dead’s first headlining arena appearance and Medeski, Martin, & Wood’s debut at the venue. The location of their Saturday show was bittersweet for fans and musicians alike, as the performance had previously been slated for the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado, though moved earlier in the week due to a snow storm rolling into Colorado’s Front Range. Saturday morning confirmed that the preemptive venue change was a good call, with thick, wet snow accumulating between three to six inches in Denver and with even more snow on the ground where Red Rocks is nestled—making for what would have been miserable if not dangerous conditions for players and attendees alike at the outdoor venue.
Despite the somewhat gloomy day, spirits were high, and fans were ready to celebrate with the other 6,500 people gathered at 1st Bank, particularly considering the stellar performance put on by Joe Russo’s Almost Dead at the Ogden Theatre the previous night. And Joe Russo’s Almost Dead and Medeski, Martin, & Wood had a few tricks up their sleeves as well, putting on a special show for the crowd that made it out for the historic performance.
Medeski, Martin, & Wood kicked off the performance, with the legendary improvisational jazz-funk group composed of pianist John Medeski, percussionist Billy Martin, and bassist Chris Wood setting the mood with an avant-garde, mercurial set characteristic of the trio. The stripped down lighting made the large arena feel intimate, with all eyes focused on the group as their slinky, groove-rooted melodies dissolved into spacey, ambient chaos, then back again, with each implementation of order building the original theme’s intensity. Medeski, Martin, & Wood put on a performance of exceptional depth, capitalizing on the inherent freedom created by having only three members. Watching the group, there was an eerie feeling that each member was simultaneously playing completely solo while also psychically dialed into the other two members, with their common intuition allowing the dramatic and hypnotic restorations of structure from sonic anarchy.
Following a brief break after Medeski, Martin, & Wood’s heavy, spacey performance—also a preview of a special surprise to come later in the night—Joe Russo’s Almost Dead took the stage and went deep into the Grateful Dead’s catalog history, appropriately opening things up with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From The Storm,” a song that the Dead and Dylan played together on July 24th, 1987 during their shared summer tour that year and which started out with Marco Benevento making use of the addition of the grand piano on the stage set-up. “Shelter From The Storm” quickly dropped into “Bertha,” with the well-known and upbeat crowd pleaser, and particularly its huge build-up led with Joe Russo front and center, amping up and locking in the collective energy within the arena (and also eliciting this gem of an overheard comment from a crowd member, “You could see a Creed cover band with Joe Russo on drums, and they would be amazing.”).
“Shelter From The Storm”
[Video courtesy of Karl Shenassa]
“Let It Grow” came next, which was led in by a sparse, spacey intro and sung by Scott Metzger. Following “Bertha,” you could tell that this was the moment that Almost Dead truly hit their stride, with the substantial “No Quarter” jam imbued with the heavy, hard tone of Led Zeppelin and with frenetic guitar licks that had the 1st Bank Center rockin’. Russo’s jazzy, syncopated drumming led out of “Let It Grow” into the classic combo of “Help On The Way” > “Slipknot!,” with dramatic pauses from the ensemble, eventually building into a dark, grinding jam featuring meticulous soloing by Metzger and, later, with intricate interplay between Benevento and Russo. Contrasted with this lead-in, the melodic and optimistic resolve into the next song, “Throwing Stones,” was dramatic, eliciting a huge response from the crowd. Russo led the group into the first jam, which featured teases of another Bob Dylan number, “Quinn The Eskimo,” before rolling back through into the refrain of “Throwing Stones”—this was followed by a funky, almost trance-y section heavily focused on Benevento and Russo, which eventually incorporated fiery, shred-heavy licks from Tom Hamilton, which led into the rockified final verse of “Throwing Stones” to close out the song.
There was thunderous applause to end the extended, three-song nonstop sequence, with the crowd not easing up as Almost Dead moved into “Must Have Been The Roses.” The mournful song was sung by Hamilton, who, as I wrote in my notes from the night, “can sing the fuck out of a ballad,” and Benevento’s bluesy playing along with Metzger’s emotive longing guitar made the song one of the highlights of the evening. The group’s debut of a cover of Bob Weir’s “Gonesville,” off his solo album Blue Mountain that was released last year, came next. The group took advantage of the classic sound of the song, with Benevento laying into the grand piano during his feature, then passing the lead to Hamilton who got up close to Russo as the two grinned at one another as they built the song to its peak together. “Gonesville” dumped into “Shakedown Street” to close out the first set, and Metzger shined during the song, providing rhythmically interesting counterpoint to the song’s disco base with his guitar. Benevento’s cascading piano on the grand led out of the song’s jam and back into the song’s main theme, where the group brought the song down to a whisper, then back up (while sneaking in teases of “China Cat Sunflower,” which Almost Dead played the previous night at the Ogden) to close out the first set on the high.
Must Have Been The Roses
[Video courtesy of Coloradojohnsons]
Needless to say, the crowd was buzzing during set break, and the energy was palpable from the arena, which was fuller than I or anyone who I talked to had ever seen it. When the second set started, John Medeski, Billy Martin, and Adam Morford (Fort Collin’s Morfbeats) along with Joe Russo were on a riser behind the band’s main setup for an ambient, percussive “Drums” and “Space” segment (though dubbed “Morphbeats” on the setlist). The rest of the band came out for “Dark Star,” leaving Martin and Morford to hold down the auxilary percussion with Russo returning to the kit and John Medeski moseying down to join Benevento at the keys. The song also saw the emergence of Antibalas’ multi-instrumentalist, Stuart Bogie, who performed with Almost Dead at the Ogden last night and who switched off between flute and saxophone during the song. With Benevento behind the grand and Medeski stationed at the Hammond organ, the two renowned pianists together crawled out of the chaos, playing discordant, whorling circles around one another and leading the group as they stretched and reached for the resolve into the refrain sung by Hamilton, which tapered off into a whisper.
Medeski, Martin, and Morford departed the stage as Almost Dead and Bogie (on clarinet) remained on stage and quickly transitioned into the crowd-pleasing “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleloo.” There was a huge round of applause as Tom Hamilton belted out the line “Prayed for better weather,” a shared feeling amongst everyone in the room, though at this point, no one seemed too worried about. Metzger led the charge with soaring, sweeping guitar through to the ending verse of the song, with the slow, a capella sung “Cross the lazy river,” trailing off and being savored by the crowd.
“Morphbeat” > “Dark Star” > “Mississippi Uptown”
There was barely a moment’s pause before the group built the song back into a jam, with Bogie’s triumphant clarinet at the helm as the group moved into “Estimated Prophet,” with whistles breaking out across the crowd and the house lights flashing on to illuminate the crowd. With Metzger crooning “Don’t worry about me,” Bogie’s exalted sax, and Benevento’s tickling solo, it was a truly sublime musical moment. A dub-tinged jam led out of “Estimated Prophet,” during which Dreiwitz held down the number with his smooth, laid-back bass straight into striking “Terrapin Suite.” The song had the crowd cheering and chanting along as it reached its climax, eventually making way into the “The Other One” with a series of sonically and thematically diverse jam portions, evoking tastes of the Middle East before and later the Caribbean, with the group’s galloping, breezy, and tropical sound. To close out the set, it was a mellow transition to “Eyes Of The World,” where Benevento was a heavy hitter throughout as his powerful solos built the song and the set to its forceful close.
The group came back for their encore, opening with “One More Saturday Night,” with Bogie’s sax a perfect addiction to the jubilant song and Joe Russo taking the key force in pushing the song forward. The group then moved into “Not Fade Away,” ending the song following Metzger’s crisp soloing with a feature of Russo and Benevento before taking it to its close with its fading a capella chorus. The floor, which had been packed all night and at capacity, began to clear out, though patient fans were rewarded with a second encore. The first song, “Ripple,” was played at the behest of Russo’s wife, and the song was perfect to begin to close out the show, with the line “Let there be song to fill the air” accompanied by huge cheers from the crowd.
“And now for something completely different,” Joe Russo announced to the crowd at the end of “Ripple,” as the band moved into a rockin’ cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run.” With all the house lights on full blast and the arena fully illuminated, it’s safe to say that people were either loving and eating up the abrupt sound and lighting change or thoroughly and hilariously distressed by it. The band closed out their encore to huge cheers from fans, before departing the stage and ending the special night.
It’s clear that Almost Dead put much thought into curating the event and their setlist with attention to the last-minute changes due to weather and with the goal of putting on a very special show for fans. The crowd left to the Rolling Stone’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” as house music. With “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need” echoing in attendees heads as they left the 1st Bank Center, the crowd found themselves nodding along in agreement, thinking that maybe things worked out just the way they were supposed to.
Those who are still disappointed on missing out on last night’s performance or are still (rightfully) longing for Joe Russo’s Almost Dead’s headlining performance at Red Rocks need not fret too long. 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. You can also listen to a recording of last night’s 1st Bank Center show below, courtesy of BonoBeats, as well as check out the full setlist from last night 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 | 1st Bank Center | Broomfield, CO | 4/29/2017
Set One (8:39PM – 10:17PM): Shelter From The Storm @ (TH) -> Bertha > Let It Grow -> No Quarter Jam # -> Help On The Way > Slipknot! $ > Throwing Stones, Must Have Been Roses, Gonesville % (SM) -> Shakedown Street ^
Set Two (10:45PM – 12:53AM) &&: Morfbeats & -> Space *-> Dark Star + -> Half Step -> Estimated Prophet -> Terrapin Suite > The Other One > Eyes Of The World @@
Encore One: One More Saturday Night -> Cold Rain & Snow Jam ## -> One More Saturday Night Reprise ##, Not Fade Away $$ -> Tequila Jam -> Not Fade Away Reprise
Encore Two: Ripple, Born To Run %%
@ – Bob Dylan Cover, First Time Played by Almost Dead
# – Not played by Almost Dead since The Belly Up, Aspen, CO, 2016-07-02, a gap of 32 shows
$ – With a “Duo Jam”
% – Bob Weir cover, from “Blue Mountain”, First Time Played by Almost Dead
^ – With short China Cat & Cold Rain & Snow Jams (Band)
& – Kind of a Drums -> Space Hybrid, with Joe, Adam Morford, Billy Martin & John Medeski, playing crazy percussion instruments created & built by Adam Morford on a riser behind Joe’s kit. Eventually Marco, Tommy, Dave & Scott joined in & the segment evolved into Space. First Time Played by Almost Dead.
&& – Entire second set from Space on & encore with Stuart Bogie on Sax, flute & clarinet.
* – With John Medeski on percussion & then Hammond Organ and Billy Martin & Adam Morford on Percussion
+ – With John Medeski on Hammond Organ and Billy Martin & Adam Morford on Percussion
@@ – With a tease of what I think was a Tears for Fears tune (TH)
## – First Time Played by Almost Dead
$$ – With Black Throated Wind teases (SM), Chuckles (WOLF) Teases (SM) and a “Duo Jam”
%% – Played with the house lights on