Joe Russo’s Almost Dead kicked off their second annual three-night “Fall Ball” at Brooklyn Bowl with a wild and inspired performance. The show featured an excellent setlist, a mini acoustic set in the lanes of the Bowl, and a number of standout jams, as Joe Russo, Marco Benevento, Tom Hamilton, Dave Dreiwitz, and Scott Metzger once again showed their hometown crowd exactly why they are such a revered live band.
The first set kicked off with a jam that turned into “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”, a song that the Almost Dead have never tackled before, continuing the trend of them debuting new material at Brooklyn Bowl. Fans were still filing into the venue at this point, and the song felt like a warm up for band and crowd alike. The show really kicked into gear with a swirling “Birdsong” that found the band weaving in and out of the song’s form as a unit. “St. Stephen” provided multiple standout jam sections, serving as a true highlight and possibly the most energetic song of the evening. One of the sections featured Russo and Benevento dueling like their old days as a duo, and another section featured a heavy rock vibe. The song took on a speed-rock vibe at one point, with the band building up tension before finally dropping back into the final verse of the song.
JRAD kept the debuts coming with “Fortune Teller” by Allen Toussaint, which then morphed into a “Mountain Dew” jam that slowly but surely transformed into “I Know You Rider”. The song’s epic build up, emotional lyrics, and lightning speed guitar work set the crowd on fire and the audience was in the palm of the band’s hands. The crowd loudly screamed along with the “I wish I was a headlight on a Northbound train” lyric, and JRAD exploded right back out of the gates with more soaring improv. Metzger and Hamilton shared vocals on the beautiful ballad “Jack Straw” that followed, which was perfectly placed at this point in the set, giving the audience a breather after the intensity of “Rider”.
What came next was a complete surprise, as Dreiwitz stepped up to the microphone to lead the band through “So Long, Jerry”, a Ween song that was written in remembrance of Jerry Garcia after his death, and the cover surely shocked the audience.
It seemed that the first set was over, but the band had other plans. They moved from the main stage to a small second stage that had been set up in the VIP area in the bowling lanes for mini-set that surprised everyone in the room. There was lots of movement as fans tried to get a better view of the new stage, and the band made up for the commotion with a beautiful and rare acoustic set, with Dreiwitz on an upright bass. The band would play four songs on the small stage, with “Candyman”, “Race Is On”, and “It Must’ve Been The Roses” all being played before they finished off the special segment with “Uncle John’s Band”. It was a truly spectacular moment, and a completely new move for the quintet. The band have played Brooklyn Bowl many times in their brief career, so it’s cool to see them switch things up like this.
Following a short break, the band returned to the stage with a take on the rare “Silvio”, written by Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter and originally scored by Bob Dylan. The theme was a relevant, tasteful addition to the band’s tribute. The first “Wharf Rat” in sixty-five shows followed, with Metzger doing his absolute best Bob Weir impersonation before improvisation took over. If set one was an aggressive set of rock ‘n’ roll, set two was a set of patient and brooding psychedelic intricacy, and “Wharf Rat” perfectly encapsulated that vibe.
JRAD kept the bust outs coming, with the first “Loser” in 75 shows giving the crowd another moment to dance and sing along. Metzger led the band through a debut version of “King Bee”, a song originally written by Slim Harpo, before Russo turned in a rare lead vocal performance on the first “Unbroken Chain” in 77 shows. I want to take a second to shout out Mr. Russo, who shined brightly on the drums throughout the evening. He masterfully leads this band as he pounds on the drum kit with authority. He has an uncanny ability to take the Dead’s catalog and make it his own, as he plays both Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzman‘s parts at the same time, creating a frenetic and unrivaled energy.
The band continued their set with “Here Comes Sunshine”, which saw some impressive guitar work from Hamilton and Metzger, building up a crazy energy that would last for the rest of the show. This was a truly impressive take on “Here Comes Sunshine”, and served as one of the high points of the second set. The jam eventually landed on an outstanding “Playin’ In The Band”, which once again featured multiple distinct jam sections that provided a final standout improvisational moment of the evening.
After a short encore break, Benevento emerged to play a remarkable, New Orleans-esque piano solo before settling in on the opening notes of Warren Zevon‘s “Werewolves of London”. The crowd went absolutely crazy for the beloved cover, and fans left the bowl howling like a wolf into the night’s sky.
At this point, it’s clear that Joe Russo’s Almost Dead is one of the best-oiled-machines on the live circuit. They play the Grateful Dead catalog with an unbridled aggressiveness that in some ways re-defines the entire experience. Russo’s powerful drumming leads the charge, but each member of the band fits their role perfectly, and it allows for them to create a truly impressive musical experience each time they take the stage. That talent was on display at Brooklyn Bowl last night, and is sure to be a hallmark of the next two nights as well. Long live the Almost Dead!
See Below for a full setlist from last night’s show. Joe Russo’s Almost Dead returns to Brooklyn Bowl tonight for their second of three nights of the “Fall Ball”. The band shared a few Facebook Live moments, which you can enjoy below:
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead | Brooklyn, NY | 10/7/16 | Brooklyn Bowl
Set I: Jam->Good Morning Little Schoolgirl->Birdsong->St. Stephen->Fortune Teller->I Know You Rider->Jack Straw, So Long, Jerry
Set II: Candyman*, Race is on*, It Must’ve Been The Roses*, Uncle John’s Band*
Set III: Silvio->Wharf Rat->Loser->King Bee, Unbroken Chain>Here Comes Sunshine->Playin’ In The Band
E: Marco Benevento Piano Solo ->Werewolves Of London
*played on acoustic mini-stage in the VIP area in the bowling lanes
[photo via @daynabgold]