After kicking off the band’s 10th anniversary run with a party for the ages at Brooklyn Bowl that witnessed a surprise sit-in by Bob Weir, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead continued its milestone affair on Saturday night with the middle of three consecutive shows at The Capitol Theatre.
Ten years later and JRAD’s ability to reimagine one of the greatest musical catalogs of all time is still a marvel, waking up senses and firing synapses that for many had long lain dormant. The music never did in fact stop, but when Joe Russo, Marco Benevento, Scott Metzger, Dave Dreiwitz, and Tom Hamilton joined forces for what was supposed to be a one-night-only show for the NYC Freaks Ball in 2013, they stoked the embers of a fire that’s been burning since 1965 with a flame thrower and a gas can, and it hasn’t stopped raging since.
Believe it if you need it,
Or leave it if you dare.
Music means so many things to so many people—the Grateful Dead songbook especially so. It’s become a genre unto itself and has encouraged a community to grow around and through it since its inception. For the last ten years, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead has been a petri dish for that community to flourish. The purest of projects, born not from the desire for pride, power, profit, or prestige, but simply for the love of the music and nothing more, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead’s story is our story, and ours theirs. With the friendships born of this music, the years of joy carried on the back of these musical notes, ten years later—nay, 58 years later—the music is almost ancillary. Almost.
The Capitol Theatre has been a frequent stop for Joe Russo’s Almost Dead over the past decade and their stories are closely aligned, too. From the band’s Cap debut back in 2013 to a trio of livestream-only shows in October 2020, JRAD has racked up 22 performances at the beloved “rock palace.” The last time the band performed at the venue with an in-person audience was on February 23rd, 2020, just a few weeks before the pandemic brought tours to a halt. Sunday will be the band’s 25th performance at the Cap, yet another milestone.
When JRAD took the stage—and even long before that—the room was buzzing with connection and shared history. My wife and I, for example, were randomly sitting next to high school friends we hadn’t seen in 25 years on one side and now very close friends who we only met at JRAD’s Westville shows two years ago on the other. Past, present, and future, you can’t make this stuff up. There would be another story of friendship, connection, and history on this Saturday night, too, as JRAD had a surprise of its own by way of Stuart Bogie, the band’s de facto sixth member, who took his usual spot stage left (just as he did the last three time JRAD played the Cap on Saturday nights in 2018, 2019, and 2020).
In addition to the interpretive genius that the band exerts on the Grateful Dead’s original source material, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead is, at its heart, a bunch of old friends who once made a career of live improvisation in New York City bars and jazz rooms. That spirit of innovation was on display early and often, the earned trust of years of friendship and brotherhood allowing the band to settle naturally into several minutes of freeform bliss before ever playing the first notes of “Foolish Heart”, a late ’80s treasure from the aptly titled Built To Last.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – Jam > “Foolish Heart” > “Slipknot” > “Casey Jones” [Pro-Shot] – 1/28/23
A furious drum beat fueled incendiary guitar solos before “Foolish Heart”’s wailing crescendos washed away in the nightclub cool of “Slipknot”, Bogie’s flute exploring tender spaces before the wild explosion that was “Casey Jones”. Setlists matter, but the way JRAD creates, its shows are as much about the space created within and between the songs as the songs themselves, and the improvisation that wound in, out, and through “Cumberland Blues” underscored that point emphatically. “Brother Esau”, perhaps the most straightforward song the band had played in three days, gave Metzger his first lead vocals of the night before the “let Joe sing” fans rejoiced as JRAD’s eponymous drummer took the mic on “Box Of Rain”. An explosive “Playing In The Band” closed the first set before Russo introduced his bandmates and everyone took a well earned breather.
Such a long, long time to be gone,
And a short time to be there.
Tonight, as in the last decade, song selections were really just launching pads for improvisation. In that spirit, “Rubin and Cherise” kicked off a jubilant second set before Metzger left his mark on a positively savage version of Otis Redding’s “Hard To Handle”. The interaction between Joe Russo and Tom Hamilton is something to behold, and now feels like as good a time as any to say that TRH Jr. is a national treasure whose on stage persona injects a fresh and much-needed dose of vitality into this timeless catalog. The smiles that pass amongst these men, the joy that radiates from the stage, the omnipresent shared grins and knowing glances as friends catch each other’s eye across a crowded room, they’re what this whole thing is really all about.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “Rubin and Cherise” > “Hard To Handle”, “Eyes Of The World” [Pro-Shot] – 1/28/23
The band hadn’t paused since set break—nor would they—as a singalong sequence of “Eyes Of The World” > “Brown-Eyed Women” > “Estimated Prophet” continued an uninterrupted run of live improvisation and countless teases that colored the setlist proper. Following the uninterrupted 70-plus minutes that opened the set were “Ramble On Rose” and “Good Lovin’”, which both got pretty wild, the latter especially as Marco delighted the crowd with a solo on the baby grand. As the crowd rejoiced arm in arm during “Touch Of Grey”, the overwhelming sense of community came roaring back as the I’s changed to we’s in the Grateful Dead’s hit single’s popular refrain.
I will get by, I will get by, I will get by, I will survive.
We will get by, we will get by, we will get by, we will survive.
One more round of band introductions, one more short break, and one more barn burner by way of a “Deal” encore and that was a wrap on “One More Saturday Night” that was anything but, especially considering the band’s notable omission of the traditional Saturday closer.
JRAD continues to connect the past, present, and future while crafting its still developing chapter in both the culture and history of the Grateful Dead. Please allow me to offer a sincere thank you for the last ten years as I wish continued success to both the band and its surrounding community for the next ten. It’s been a birthday full of reflection and remembrance, surprises and special friends, and with three down and one to go, the “never miss a Sunday show” theorists can only wonder what Joe Russo’s Almost Dead has in store for the grand finale of the band’s four-night 10th anniversary celebration tonight at the Cap. The show is available to stream on fans.live. Don’t miss it!
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “Cumberland Blues” – 1/28/23
[Video: Fred Ramadan]
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “Playing In The Band” – 1/28/23
[Video: Fred Ramadan]
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “Estimated Prophet” – 1/28/23
[Video: Fred Ramadan]
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “Deal” – 1/28/23
[Video: Fred Ramadan]
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – The Capitol Theatre – Port Chester, NY – 1/28/23 – Full Audio
[Audio: Cam Keough]
Check out a gallery of images of JRAD at The Capitol Theatre courtesy of photographer Andrew Blackstein. Read Live For Live Music‘s full coverage of JRAD’s 10th-anniversary run: Sunday | Friday | Thursday.
Setlist: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead | The Capitol Theatre | Port Chester, NY | 1/28/23
Set 1: Jam > Foolish Heart > Slipknot! > Casey Jones > Cumberland Blues, My Brother Esau, Box of Rain > Playing In The Band
Set 2: Rubin and Cherise > Hard To Handle, Eyes Of The World > Brown-Eyed Women > Estimated Prophet, Ramble On Rose, Good Lovin > Touch of Grey
w/ Stuart Bogie