“There is truly no point in ranking nights like this, but that being said I’ll still like to go on record as saying this one was special. Without question, this was the best show since the last show … until the next show.”
That’s what I wrote about Saturday’s Joe Russo’s Almost Dead show at New Haven, CT’s Westville Music Bowl, but it’s equally applicable today as it was yesterday. Sunday’s show rises to the top of the heap as my personal favorite JRAD show ever.
For starters, never miss a Sunday show, right? Right?!?! So there’s that. And with two one-better-than-the next, perfect shows already in the books, it was feeling plainly obvious that this was going to be the one. So while the rest of the Northeast was perhaps feeling a little washed out, JRAD was getting set to take a victory lap around the New Haven, CT stadium and put the proverbial cherry on top of a perfect Memorial Day weekend.
As JRAD fans once again filed into the rain-washed venue, the glint of a tenor sax onstage was quick to create a buzz. Shortly thereafter, Joe Russo et al. entered stage left and confirmed the obvious, “That’s correct, that is Stuart Bogie.”
The frequent JRAD collaborator’s presence was felt in no time as the band launched into a life-affirming, twenty-two minute “Eyes Of The World”. Stuart Bogie really is the perfect guest for JRAD—so suave, and visibly appreciative of his bandmates as he watches and listens in equal proportion to the notes he plays. This is a musician who viscerally understands that less is often more, picking his spots with the precision of a world class marksman. A Sunday show with Stuart Bogie to cap the band’s first three-night run in fourteen months was indeed the universe’s way of getting level with the JRAD faithful for three straight nights in the elements.
Tom Hamilton Jr. dangled a prophetic “Going Down The Road Feelin’ Bad” tease before the full band followed Scott Metzger’s lead for a short jaunt into Tom Petty’s “Breakdown” that eventually found its footing in a gnarly “Estimated Prophet”, a juxtaposition of the somewhat more traditional Grateful Dead pairing of “Estimated” > “Eyes”.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead w/ Stuart Bogie – “Eyes of the World” [Pro-Shot] – 5/30/21
Now two songs into the fifth of six sets of the weekend, this show had already reached the level of pure bliss. Honoring the catalog before him and the fans in front of him, Joe Russo is the engine that drives the most perfect collection of generational talent, his drum kit the epicenter of the love and light this band spreads.
A dear friend had this to share: “JRAD takes the songbook and rewrites it musically, evolving it and elevating it. It brings the music to a place that is pure and filled with intense connection [not just] with each member of the band but with each of us as well, and of course the intense connection to the music of the Grateful Dead. Joe Russo is a drum king. He is a conductor. And he runs his shows with deep thought and observance. That man sees everything. I love them all but I really revere Mr Russo.”
That feeling permeated Westville Music Bowl all weekend just as it unapologetically permeates this review. Any excitement toward this performance deserves to be turned up, not toned down.
After a brief detour through a “Friend of the Devil” jam, Bogie blew the horn and Russo tapped the tambourine as Metzger led the band through the harmonized vocals of “Cassidy”. The aforementioned “Going Down The Road Feelin’ Bad” finally materialized, dropping the crowd into yet another top-flight groove before Hamiton and Bogie enchanted the audience in turns during an absolutely intoxicating “Candyman”.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead w/ Stuart Bogie – “Going Down The Road Feelin’ Bad” – 5/30/21
“The Eleven” followed, every bit the companion to Saturday’s “St. Stephen” in both stature and sheer force. Minds were lost that may never be found, but memories (and videos) remain.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead w/ Stuart Bogie – “The Eleven” – 5/30/21
Everyone’s got their song, and another quick “Slipknot!” (the fourth of the weekend if you’re keeping score at home) ushered in mine. “Franklin’s Tower” has always been the ultimate Grateful Dead party song—If you get confused, listen to the music play—and since there’s no better GD party than a JRAD party (in the rain), well, game on, I say. “Franklin’s” has always represented the ultimate opportunity to check your inhibitions at the door, and having been burdened with none myself, I have never felt more in tune with a crowd of like minded people than I did this weekend. We appreciate these moments—live for them, in fact—and realize the full bore of their potential when they occur. This one was for everyone. We came. We saw. We danced. And then we rested and refreshed for set two.
The second set started with yet another heavy hitter as the familiar chords of “Scarlet Begonias” ushered in the weekend’s sixth and final set. JRAD typically shies from traditional Grateful Dead combos, so the “Fire On The Mountain” that followed was a most welcome surprise. In an incendiary blaze, Marco delighted the audience while Joe drove the bus with Tommy stuck in high gear. A sexy, Spanish-style jam marked as “Scarlet Reprise” led the way (sans drum beat intro) to the best “Beat It On Down The Line” these ears have ever heard; this song has always been a ripper, but this was something else entirely. JRAD continues to assault what I think I know about the Grateful Dead catalog. Seriously, who knew? Joe Russo knew, that’s who. Scott Metzger knew, too. And Dave Dreiwitz. Everyone had to take a breath when that one was done, our favorite drummer and his bandmates included. Dayenu. Or, as one of countless new friends genuinely offered, “Fuck yeah.”
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead w/ Stuart Bogie – “Fire On The Mountain” – 5/30/21
Perfect setlisting paved the way for a lovely “He’s Gone”, Bogie’s flute soothing the soul and calming the heart rate all at once, the band again reminding us of its uncanny knack for giving us what we need exactly when we need it. “Playin’ In The Band” was twenty-plus minutes of rowdy jams cut with five or six minutes of ambient space, under what turned out to be the hardest of the three days’ worth of rain.
“Samson & Delilah”, a true drummer’s delight, left me feeling certain even before the encore that this show would go down as an all-timer, and whether it was in spite of or because of the rain is actually a debatable fact. As the crowd enthusiastically saluted the band during the introductions that preceded the encore break, Russo was equally effusive in expressing his gratitude to those who braved the worst Memorial Day weather in recent memory to share in the three-day love fest that was Joe Russo’s Almost Dead’s return to the live stage.
Woah, someday girl, I don’t know when
We’re gonna get to that place where we really want to go and we’ll walk in the sun
But till then tramps like us, baby we were born to run.
Despite continued heavy rain, the crowd was already walking in the sun, busting at the seams with love and joy as Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run” filled the encore slot for the first time since the 3/15/19 at The Wellmont Theater in Montclair, NJ. As Stuart Bogie channeled his best Clarence Clemons, the JRAD faithful threw down like warriors for the weekend’s last five minutes, exposed and vulnerable under the full glare of the house lights, delightfully letting loose without a shred of inhibition.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead w/ Stuart Bogie – “Born To Run” (Bruce Springsteen) – 5/30/21
[Video: Tracy Bell-Winnick]
The memories of this three night run will live forever in my heart just as they nourished my soul. And this was definitely the best show—since the last show, until the next show.
20,791 steps on the night and a three day tally of 62,494 (dancing in the van not included). Tramps like us were born to run. And dance.
Scroll down to check out a gallery of photos from the Sunday show courtesy of photographer Andrew Blackstein.
For a full list of upcoming Joe Russo’s Almost Dead tour dates—including details on the remaining six summer JRAD shows at Westville Music Bowl—head here.
Setlist: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead | Westville Music Bowl | New Haven, CT | 5/30/21
Set One: Eyes of the World > Estimated Prophet, Cassidy > Going Down The Road Feelin’ Bad > Candyman, The Eleven > Franklin’s Tower
Set Two: Scarlet Begonias > Fire on the Mountain > Scarlet Begonias (Reprise) > Beat It On Down The Line, He’s Gone > Playing In The Band, Samson and Delilah
Encore: Born To Run