More than a month has passed since Joe Russo was last seen drumming and singing along to the songs of the Grateful Dead. But with his wife, Pooja Raj, and newborn baby girl resting safely at home, the leader of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead returned to the stage in time to light up Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre on the third Friday of August.
Joe was jubilant as ever as he banged away to extended renditions of “Dancin’ in the Streets,” “Eyes of the World,” “Let It Grow” and “Terrapin Station” out of the gate. Those four songs alone swallowed up the entire first set, which ran for 85 minutes. Not that any of the Dead Heads who turned out for the occasion seemed to mind.
The extended run times afforded the rest of JRAD ample opportunity to jam to their heart’s content. Joe and Tom Hamilton Jr. shared their usual bit of onstage bromance as Tom swung between searing guitar solos and delightful vocals. Scott Metzger more than held up his end of the guitar-vocals double that he shares with Tom, though having Dave Dreiwitz doing his thing on bass between him and Joe made it tough for Scott to get too close to the drums. All the while, Marco Benevento basked in a spotlight of solitude as his tickled his keys off to Tom’s side.
Together, they were as spectacular as ever, getting things shaking on “Shakedown Street” and “Truckin’” through more than two-and-a-half hours of Dead classics (not including intermission).
On this night, though, JRAD offered a few more-than-pleasant surprises for its West Coast faithful.
First and foremost were the wind accompaniments of Stuart Bogie. The Evanston-born, Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist put seemingly his entire skill set on display as a fixture for the evening. Between his saxophone, clarinet, flute and double-stacked harmonica, Stuart beautifully handled solos throughout the set that would’ve otherwise been afforded to guitars and keys, and lent those parts, as well as the whole show, a certain refreshing airiness that could’ve raised the Dead.
JRAD opened the second set with its second guest, Eric D. Johnson, bringing his signature signing and ax work to bear on “Unbroken Chain”. The group brought him back out for the encore, during which he assumed near center stage next to Joe on covers of the Zombies’ “This Will Be Our Year” and as song by his own band, Fruit Bats, called “When U Love Somebody”. Joe then explained how he and Eric first met while performing together at a “Last Waltz” concert in New York City before launching into a rendition of Van Morrison and The Band’s “Caravan”.
To close out the night, Joe invited Evan Roque onstage to share his drum kit and microphone for “Not Fade Away”. Besides being Joe’s nephew, Evan is JRAD’s drum tech and the one responsible for filling in when the man after whom the band is named had to take his leave when his wife gave birth three weeks early. The teenager and his uncle reveled in each other’s company as they led the audience first jubilantly then gently into a clapping chorale of “You Know My Love Will Not Fade Away”.
That carried on well after JRAD retreated for the night, and made for a fitting finish to an outstanding show. After all, Joe Russo and the All-Star musicians he’s assembled are as much the next generation of the Grateful Dead’s music as Evan may eventually be to JRAD. Just as Bob Weir and Phil Lesh bestowed upon Joe the first-hand know-how to not only replicate the Dead, but add his own percussive spin, so too could he, in turn, hand the baton to his nephew in due course.
Such is the nature of a musical movement that has splintered so spectacularly in recent years. While Dead and Company may be the standard bearer of the Grateful Dead’s catalogue, with Phil Lesh and the Terrapin Family Band right in the mix, there remains plenty of room for alternative interpretations to thrive on the public’s persistent appetite for these timeless tunes. That JRAD, a band whose origins trace back to 2013, was able to ride that wave into one of L.A.’s most iconic venues is a testament as much to Joe’s fortitude as to the life behind the Dead—which appears primed to live on for many more years to come.
Next on the band’s radar is Stanford, CA’s Frost Amphitheater tonight before heading to Arrington, VA for a performance at LOCKN’ Festival next weekend. JRAD will return to their road and head to Morrison, CO’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre on August 29th and a two-night Texas House of Blues run in Dallas and Houston on September 12th and 13th. For a full list of show dates, head to the band’s website.
Scroll down for a full gallery of photos from Friday’s performance, courtesy of photographer Josh Martin.
Setlist: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead | Greek Theatre | Los Angeles, CA | 8/16/19
Set One: Dancin’ in the Streets, Eyes of the World, Let It Grow, Terrapin Station
Set Two: Unbroken Chain, Lost Sailor, Saint of Circumstance, Shakedown Street, Let It Grow (Reprise), Brown-Eyed Women, Truckin’
Encore: This Will Be Our Year*, When U Love Somebody**, Caravan%, Not Fade Away#
*The Zombies cover
**Fruit Bats cover
% Van Morrison cover
#The Crickets cover, tease of The Beatles Hey Bulldog