Joe Russo’s Almost Dead has left an undeniable mark on the Grateful Dead‘s legacy, favored as one of the top post-Jerry act to see live. In 2017, the band, led by Joe Russo and featuring Marco Benevento, Tom Hamilton, Dave Dreiwitz, and Scott Metzger, celebrated many momentous occasions, including performing their 100th show in May at Brooklyn Bowl, selling out their headlining Red Rocks debut in August, and welcoming an enviable list of musicians from John Mayer to Jim James to Bob Weir on stage across the year.
Over the weekend, the band kicked off their 2018 in style, laying out a spectacular three-night run at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York. Ahead of these shows, Live For Live Music got the chance to speak to longtime friends and collaborators and current Almost Dead bandmates, Scott Metzger and Dave Dreiwitz, about another performance they have on the books—a co-billed show on Friday, February 9th, featuring Metzger’s WOLF! and Dreiwitz’s Crescent Moon at Garcia’s at The Capitol. (Tickets and more information available here.)
For the first of this special two-part interview series, our own Sam Berenson was lucky enough to get to sit down with guitarist Scott Metzger. During their conversation, aside from heaping praise on his bandmates in Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Metzger discussed his side project WOLF!, his favorite guitarists, and helping Trey Anastasio practice for the Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well shows. Read on below to learn more, plus stay tuned for our upcoming interview with Dave Dreiwitz later this week!
Live for Live Music: Tell us a little bit about WOLF! to start out.
Scott Metzger: WOLF! is a trio of guitar, bass, and drums. I play guitar, Taylor Floreth plays drums, and Jon Shaw plays the bass. We’re three guys that got our start backing different singers around New York City. One night, the singer we were supposed to perform with didn’t show up to the gig, and we were stuck with no singer and a club owner who was demanding music. So we went out and performed about an hour’s worth of instrumental music to just fill the time really, and it went over well, so that was the band’s first gig. That was about five-six years ago. Up until now, we’ve just been playing around New York and keeping it local, but as of recently, we decided to act like grownups, and we’ve gotten management and a booking agency and are taking it more regionally.
WOLF! at Brooklyn Bowl, 3/22/2014
L4LM: How have Pete Shapiro’s venues played an important role in your career?
Scott Metzger: Oh man… (laughs), that’s a great question. Pete’s venues between The Wetlands and then Brooklyn Bowl and now The Capitol Theatre, have all been places where most of my most important musical connections have been made. The Wetlands really was the jumping-off point for a lot of us. A lot of the guys who are playing together now met there and played together for the first time there. The Wetlands really gave all of us musicians the sense of hope that it was worth being a musician.
Brooklyn Bowl and all of Pete’s venues offer a very special thing: the way he interacts with the bands he books. He offers the opportunity for a band to grow and find themselves. You don’t find many promoters like that. Pete Shapiro has changed a lot of our lives by giving us the opportunity to play at his clubs.
L4LM: It’s hard for me not to think of you and Dave Dreiwitz’s friendship over the years, especially with your bands co-billing a show together Friday, February 9th, at Garcia’s, another one of Pete Shapiro’s magical endeavors.
SM: I met Dave Dreiwitz when I was like eighteen in Lambertville, New Jersey. I was working a summer job at a health foods store, and there were never a lot of people coming in so I would bring my guitar in. I’d sit there and practice at work, and one day, Dave said, “Oh, that’s great. You play guitar and seem like such a nice and humble guy.” And then he says, “You know, I’m playing with Ween?”
I was just like, “Oh my god, this guy is a rockstar.” Where I come from, Ween is like the biggest thing ever. Over the years, Dave has just been so encouraging to me about my music and starting up new stuff. Through the years, we’ve always been together stage-left, with Bustle in Your Hedgerow and then all of the Chris Harford “Band of Changes” gigs that we’ve done. It’s like Dave’s family. I have to add that his band Crescent Moon is the absolute shit!
Chris Harford’s Band Of Changes (ft. Gene Ween, Dean Ween, Dave Dreiwitz, & Scott Metzger), “What We Do Not Know”
L4LM: What is the top-secret ingredient to Joe Russo’s Almost Dead’s ever-growing popularity?
Scott Metzger: I really give Joe [Russo] all of the credit. Joe was very well steeped in the Dead community and was familiar with the music and the audience. A big part of it is Joe’s commitment to encouraging us to make each song wildly different than the last time we played it. As a bandleader, he puts total trust in his band and encourages going out on a limb, each and every time we play a song. To me, that’s really what’s made it special.
I honestly don’t know the reason why it’s caught on like it has. I think that it’s a combination of a few things though, and Joe is a huge factor in that. I also think that the five of us having different configurations with each other for twenty years is another huge part of it.
L4LM: You and Tommy [Hamilton] have become such complimentary guitar players together. Does it just come naturally, or is it something that’s progressed over the years?
SM: I’ll put it this way; it’s kind of a combination of your question. It’s progressed naturally (laughs). You know, it’s never been discussed. We’ve never sat down backstage and been like, “Ok, you do it like this, so I’m gonna do it like this.” It just works the way that it works. File it under a happy accident!
L4LM: What is your favorite Grateful Dead show?
SM: Unfortunately, I never got to see Jerry [Garcia]. I’m a big fan of the 1983 New Years Run, but that’s really just through the research I’ve done for Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. For me, my favorite show is Barton Hall ’77. It has particularly special meaning to me because I got to play that show when Phil Lesh did a recreation setlist of the show at Terrapin Crossroads. That was actually one of the few Grateful Dead shows I knew before Joe Russo’s Almost Dead started and became what it is. If you had told me fifteen years ago, when I was in college or whatever, that I’d be playing that same set with one of the guys from the Dead, I wouldn’t have believed you. This was also the first show that John Mayer played any Dead music onstage with a remaining member of the band. There were so many guitars onstage that night!
Phil Lesh & Friends, Terrapin Crossroads, 6/12/2014
[Video: Samwise Gamgee]
L4LM: So I need to know. Did Trey soundcheck with you guys at Red Rocks?
Scott Metzger: (long pause, then laughs) I don’t know, but Joe, Dave, and I rehearsed with Trey [Anastasio] for a couple days before the Grateful Dead’s Fare Thee Well shows. What happened was Trey was getting ready for the Fare Thee Well shows—which is like the most massive call that anyone could get—to fill the shoes of Jerry Garcia. So, he calls Joe to rehearse with him and go over all of the Dead tunes. Joe then recommended that me and Dave come in, and then there was a friend of Trey’s there playing piano. There were five of us there total. It was like being a sparring partner for the heavyweight champ before the big fight. I think we went in for like three full days of doing that.
L4LM: One last question. You get to play with any guitar player that’s still alive that you haven’t already played with before. Who is it, and why?
SM: That’s a very tough question. There would be a list of guys. The guys I haven’t played with yet would be Derek Trucks, Marc Ribot, Bill Frisell, and Julian Lage—those would be the four. Now, three out of those four guys are considered jazz players. And then Derek, he’s just an all-around mature musician—he goes beyond a great guitar player. That guy’s just like, I feel if that guy played tuba, he would give you goosebumps. The way that he is so musical, it’s unbelievable. And he’s so emotional, yet so controlled at the same time. That, to me, really stands out.
[Photo: Steve Olker]