By the end of Sunday night, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead would wind up with its name etched in the heavens in honor of the music made on The Capitol Theatre stage this night and all the others throughout the band’s remarkable decade of magical music-making…with a little help from storied music promoter Peter Shapiro.

As the band members got ready to take the stage at The Cap for the closing night of their four-day run of NYC shows celebrating their 10th anniversary as the most innovative Grateful Dead cover band in a crowded sea of tribute payers, one thought was sure to pop into their heads as they waited. It’s a thought every stage performer knows, either instinctively or through hard-won experience. Simply put it’s “Save the best for last.” It has a counterpoint well known by fans from across the country who’ve gathered together for extended runs by their favorite bands who made their way to the venue on an unseasonably mild winter night…”Never miss a Sunday show.”

There’s an element of electricity and danger as the lobby and aisles empty and the seats of the Capitol Theatre fill and both adages race toward a sonic collision. Drummer Joe Russo, his longtime music brother-in-arms keyboardist Marco Benevento, bassist Dave Dreiwitz (Ween), and the guitarist/vocalist duo of Tom Hamilton and Scott Metzger surely felt it as they prepared to meet the long-ago sold-out crowd waiting for them on the other side of the curtain. It’s so potent even viewers of the always reliable could feel it from wherever they were tuning in from.

After a wild Thursday show at the band’s birthplace, Brooklyn Bowl, where Bob Weir came out to give the band his blessing on the psychedelic journey. The weekend run moved across town Friday for night one of three at the Cap, a dense psychedelic affair which contrasted sharply with the sax party of night two with longtime band ally Stuart Bogie. It’s been a long, twisting ten-year path to this bittersweet but inevitable Sunday conclusion for all involved but it had finally arrived. That said, it wasn’t over quite yet as the evening featured a bevy of spacey transitions, astral awards, cool themes chock full of beloved Dead classics, and a sit-down acoustic set within a set to end Sunday’s first half that Russo summed up as a “Ridiculous amount of fun!”

Russo and Co. might revere the work of the Dead but just as essential to their unique presentation and adaptation of the catalog is their affection for the spirit the music of the Dead was created. Unafraid of deviations and innovations that others may balk at, the Joe Russo’s Almost Dead quintet fearlessly plays with the structure, intent, and tempo of the Dead catalog  in ways that are as interpretive as the Dead themselves when approaching material not its own. With a twinkling playfulness, lilting chords coalesced into a tight, powerful “Lost Sailor” and, at long last, the show was underway.

Unbeknownst to the fans in attendance, the night would end with a truly inspired, non-musical call back to the heart of the tune’s main metaphor of sailors and the stars that guide them. Not yet ready to depart the heavens, Metzger led the way on a cosmic visit with the “Saint Of Circumstance” before one last angelic encounter with a far-ranging, impressive “St.Stephen”.

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “Lost Sailor” > “Saint of Circumstance” – 1/29/23

As Benevento set a long playing chord to cover the transition, the whole set turned on a dime as the members of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead bolted their standard positions to a hastily constructed acoustic set-up flawlessly executed by the top-notch staff at The Capitol Theatre. From their comfy new seated perches, Hamilton and Metzger picked and grinned their way through Jim Alley‘s “Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line” and “Dire Wolf” before the now fully warmed-up acoustic quintet comfortably tackled the crowd-pleasing sing-a-long musical mouthful sandwich of two slices of “Uncle John’s Band ” with a plump filling of “King Solomon’s Marbles”.

Benevento’s keys rang out so powerfully against the acoustic guitar lines and Russo’s alternatively restrained but somehow still splashy kit work that the keyboard wizard was in danger of running away with the night’s MVP trophy. That said, the acoustic fretwork of Hamilton and Metzger was nimble and direct and by no means pedestrian. For his part Russo seemed to enjoy every second free from the confines of his massive show drums, all rolling snare fills and a delighted smile from ear to sweaty ear.

After gorging themselves on the weighty feast of the “Uncle John’s” sandwich, followed by the rise and fall crescendos of “Wharf Rat” and the authentic hoedown jam of “Jack-A-Roe”, it was easy to see why Russo couldn’t stop smiling as the band headed to the first set break of the night.

Set two saw the band members back in their regular places for an instantly boogie-inducing “Fire On The Mountain ” that had all the urgency of the nearing inevitable end of the road. Guitarist Tom Hamilton was the spark that ignited that blaze and burned the brightest as the song progressed to a smoking finish.

Drummer and bandleader Joe Russo, who had been both amazingly consistent and somewhat restrained up to this point, made the intro of Sunday Dead hallowed traditional “Samson and Delilah” a quick reminder of his massive ability to fill any space with thunder and fury to match any walls a tumblin’ before the band joined him at full speed for an occasionally nearly out of control take on the tune.

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “Fire On the Mountain”, “Samson and Delilah”, “Mission in the Rain” – 1/29/23

Tom Hamilton brought the tempo way down against some beautiful droning chords laid to ground by organist Marco Benevento, taking the lead for an aching rendition of Jerry Garcia Band delight “Mission In The Rain”. From those dwindling ashes the energy level cranked back to full speed almost instantly on the Martha Reeves & The Vandellas standard “Dancin’ In The Streets”. Rising to incredible heights of frenzy before settling down into a wonderful transition into “New Speedway Boogie” before gloriously returning to “Dancin” In The Streets”, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead was clearly firing on all cylinders.

To close out the second set the guys in the band offered a trio of incredibly dense, wild, and woolly tunes that revealed the “highways and byways” second set theme starting off with a chugging, bluesy “West L.A. Fadeaway”. This staple jam saw an inspired call-and-response guitar passage by Metzger and Hamilton that featured some of the finest fretwork of the entire weekend, which is truly saying something considering the amazing work both had put in up to this point. Returning to the chorus even Hamilton seemed surprised at the sky-high jams he and his six-stringed partner-in-crime had just achieved by pushing each other ever further and further.

Stopping in on Traffic‘s signature “Dear Mr.Fantasy ”, the band seemed to signal that it was time to get it in gear as the merging of lights and sound made the Capitol interior appear to be nothing but a blur out the window. Putting pedal to the metal the band segued into “Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad” at a hundred miles per hour of sonic momentum that only slowed to a lilting finality and one last round of band intros from a clearly exhausted but jubilant Russo, himself mere inches from a wall shattering collision.

Peter Shapiro, owner of both venues where the band celebrated its 10th anniversary and not coincidentally the first two sites of the group’s existence, gave Joe Russo’s Almost Dead a truly unique and stellar “Thank You” for its anniversary achievement: the band’s own star. If you have a telescope you can find JRAD 10 in the sky, in the Aquarius Constellation at Right Ascension of 20 hours 39 minutes and 23.35s by a Declination of negative 11 degrees, 45 ft and 51.1 inches twinkling down or, if you’re a more terrestrial sort, you can find the band on a year-long victory lap around the music scene.

Just as packed as it was at the sold-out beginning of the show, the fans rose one final time as one got down to the most unrestrained take on “Bertha” any band has given in likely a very long while. It was the sonic equivalent of fireworks on a hot summer night and, folks, these lights in the sky were now either caused by or named for those who made them. As wonderful a conundrum as the level of talent and love we’ve all been lucky enough to bear witness to this last decade. It’s yet more a boon for us all that, thanks to artists who revere the works of others before them, they reflect the spirit of the age the music was crafted.

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – The Capitol Theatre – Port Chester, NY – 1/29/23 – Full Audio

[Audio: Cam Keough]

Revisit Live For Live Music‘s coverage of JRAD’s 10th-anniversary run: Saturday | Friday | Thursday.

Setlist: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead | The Capitol Theatre | Port Chester, NY | 1/29/23

Set One: Space -> Lost Sailor [1] ->Saint Of Circumstance [2] > Saint Stephen [3], Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line [4], Dire Wolf [5], Uncle John’s Band [6] -> King Solomons marbles [4] ->Uncle John’s Band, It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry [7], Wharf Rat [8] -> Jack-a-Roe [9]

Set Two: Fire On the Mountain, Samson and Delilah (Traditional), Mission In the Rain (Jerry Garcia) > Dancing In the Street (Martha Reeves & the Vandellas) -> New Speedway Boogie [10] -> Dancing In the Street -> West L.A. Fadeaway -> Dear Mr. Fantasy (Traffic) [11] -> Hey Jude (The Beatles) [12] -> Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad (Henry Whitter) -> And We Big You Goodnight jam

Encore: Bertha

[1] w/ “My Brother Esau” quote

[2] w/ “Let it Grow” tease

[3] Mid-song, crew sets up acoustic kit at front of the stage

[4] FTP acoustic

[5] LTP acoustic 12-31-2015

[6] LTP acoustic 12-28-2016

[7] FTP, acoustic with Metzger vocals

[8] FTP acoustic, with “Dark Star” and “Row Jimmy” teases

[9] LTP acoustic 10-7-2016, with a Chopin funeral march tease

[10] Incomplete, first two verses only

[11] FTP Metzger vocals

[12] Ending only