Friday’s night two of the near-annual three-show Joe Russo’s Almost Dead run at The Fillmore in New Orleans during Jazz Fest was a much looser, off the cuff experience than the band’s dense first edition Thursday night. Joe Russo and company’s proclivity to come out and use a little noodling time as their last-second soundcheck is a wonderful way to enter every show fresh and from new angles. By the time they launched the opener “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” proper, they were already firing on all cylinders, and there was no looking back. After some delightfully dark and bluesy fretwork by guitarists Tom Hamilton and Scott Metzger over the course of the show opener, the nearly whispered outro swelled into a glorious crescendo.

Slipping into a double-time rendition of The Beatles‘ classic “Rain” that was clearly inspired by the ever unpredictable New Orleans skies (and possible Jazz Fest-threatening thunderstorms on the Saturday forecast), Hamilton threw in some impressive new licks for the Lennon/McCartney classic. Keyboardist Marco Benevento made the most convincing rainfall effects possible before the whole affair slowly transitioned into “Uncle John’s Band” for an always welcome old-fashioned singalong.

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo” > “Rain” (The Beatles) – 5/5/23

Not ready to let the fans off the hook, Metzger and Benevento brought out a rollicking “Man Smart, Women Smarter” to keep the crowd in full vocal workout. By mid-song, a full-on dance party raged on The Fillmore floor while the stage itself was filled with resounding guitar tradeoffs, some epic pocket work from Russo’s drums and bassist Dave Dreiwitz, and more exuberant joy from Benevento. It was a perfect example of a band and its audience looping the love to take the energy higher on each pass.

After bringing the fun to a most satisfying conclusion, the band took its first full stop of the evening. Russo took the opportunity to check in with the fans to see how they were doing before getting the answer he already knew in the form of thunderous cheers and applause raining down from the rafters. Ready to ride that wave, Hamilton got ”China Cat Sunflower” going with a definite appreciation of the mischief he and the band were making.

After “Cat”, it was time to get a bit more aggressive as Dreiwitz stepped up the pace with a funky bassline and vocals for the rabble-rousing Neil Young jam “Time Fades Away”. Metzger added some furious shredding to the finale of the cover before calling his own number with yet more impressive guitar work and some sharp vocals on the Bob Dylan-penned set closer “Tell Me Momma”. Band and fans were drenched in sweat and clearly in need of a little time to regain lost electrolytes and sanity.

Set two got off to a jammy start thanks to a fun bit of interplay from longtime partners-in-crime Russo and Benevento, with rolling snare work interplaying with angelic chords in a way that only the Duo can pull off. From there a smoking “Brown Eyed Woman” emerged and kicked off an energetic run with “Deep Elem Blues “ and “Feels Like A Stranger” coming in fast, one after the other, each rocking a touch harder than their predecessors.

Clearly feeling like a palette cleanser was called for, next up JRAD gave the slightly sagging audience a chance to recover while they went exploring with “Spacey Drums” before losing themselves in the lamentation of “He’s Gone”. The sparse finale of the tune was some of Benevento’s most wonderful, lilting work of the evening and showed just what a grand piano can do in the proper hands. The show-closing first three sections of Terrapin Station suite, “Lady With A Fan”, ” Terrapin Station”, and “At A Siding”, certainly were as dense and reverential as anything JRAD pulled off all evening, and the crowd was all in. The Fillmore went on as complete a musical and emotional journey as one can take in 20 minutes, and the resulting outburst was a mixture of appreciation and exhaustion that only truly moving music can evoke.

For the encore, JRAD sent the audience off into the night with a full steam ahead “Sugar Magnolia”. It was a spry and light take on the track at first before morphing briefly into a snarling monster of a song. By the end, all the crowd could do was cheer what was another amazing show from this perfectly matched group of talents gathered under Russo’s banner. It’s hard to say how Joe Russo’s Almost Dead could follow this wild evening’s festivities, but everyone who left the Fillmore Friday certainly got their money’s worth and more!

Saturday night’s JRAD show got off to an out-of-this-solar-system start thanks to some electronic trickery from Joe Russo’s bag of gadgets that he manipulated while throwing in a few snare and drum fills for good measure. The rest of the crew followed his solo “Drums & Space” lead and commenced exploring alongside their captain and special guest of the evening, saxophonist Stuart Bogie. The whole structure of musical insanity they collectively erected collapsed into a galloping “Let It Grow” that instantly shook the crowd from its trancelike state. At times explosive before waxing angelic, the sheer muscle power of the augmented sextet was stunning in its display as they laid down some nearly incomprehensible jams.

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead With Stuart Bogie– “Jam” > “Let It Grow” – 5/6/23

After all that forcible brain rearrangement, the sweet opening sounds of the Jerry Garcia Band classic “Reuben & Cherise” was welcomed by the fans heartily. The delicate nature of the tune, and, naturally, its New Orleans-based narrative, quickly had the complete attention of the audience as the psychedelic journey continued at a more contemplative pace and intensity. Metzger helped keep the jams a bit more grounded with an admirable job on Kris Kristfferson’s “Me And Bobby McGee” before the visit to the JGB songbook continued with a groovy take on “Cats Under The Stars” that let Metzger continue his stellar guitar playing while Hamilton stepped in for a turn at vocals and Benevento went into attack mode on the organ.

After a “Cumberland Blues” that is still, sadly, extremely understandable and far too relatable at this point of Late Stage Capitalism, all that was left for the set was a “Throwing Stones” that somehow echoed all the themes of the evening in one big self-encapsulated burst. Joe Russo’s Almost Dead does a lot of things very well, but the key to their success is their aggressive stance on bringing new, much needed passion and perspective to the catalog of the Dead.

The “St. Stephen” that opened the second set showed that same vitality, alongside the willingness to zig when The Dead would have zagged. It’s not a pure abandonment of faith in the tunes as they were written or what they eventually evolved into, but JRAD’s belief in their own takes and their own inherent viability that leads them down new, untraveled paths. Not every song needs to be reinvented every night, though. JRAD knows there’s nothing like the classic one-two of “Help On The Way” and “Slipknot!” to hit fans right in the heart. Besides, those tracks are already pretty tricky, and ten years into playing Dead, JRAD knows that better than anyone.

After a quick trip to the nearby bayou so Metzger and Hamilton could have a bit of fun with “Alligator”, the sound stayed southern fried with a nod to Sonny Boy Williamson by way of The Allman Brothers Band with the desperate cry of “One Way Out”. From that song’s fearful, drawn out full stop, there was only one, absolutely certain way to make sure the crowd got back to moving, as one of the Dead’s most elemental grooves, the disco-flavored “Shakedown Street”, cracked to life.

From that foundational Dead track, JRAD launched straight into another, closing out the show and the entire long strange weekend with a “Truckin” that clearly hit the crowd’s sweet spot. Everyone knew, given the Jazz Fest backdrop, that the tune was sure to make an appearance. Saving it to the very last was a masterful move and propelled what was already a pitch perfect night of jams well into the stratosphere of legendary shows.

After a quick stretch of the legs and likely a hastily consumed beverage (or two), Joe Russo and Co came back out to turn over their final hole card, a brand new cover of fellow Jersey boy Bruce Springsteen’s “Rosalita”. With Bogie on hand to do his level best to fill the giant shoes of Clarence Clemons, JRAD seemed to be having all the fun a band could have after such an important stretch of shows. The smiles and nods of the crowd, their faces painted in multi-color concert lights, showed relief as they realized they had made it out of the weekend unscathed.

Russo and Co know the fans have a lot of options, as he noted while acknowledging that it was an honor and a privilege that these three sold-out audiences came to see them play. As the joyous call-and-response of the closing Springsteen cover gave way to the echoing cheers of the completely exhausted Fillmore crowd, it was clear JRAD had passed its latest test with flying colors.

Scroll down to view the complete setlists, fan-shot videos, and photos from Joe Russo’s Almost Dead at The Fillmore in New Orleans courtesy of photographer Jason Steger. JRAD returns to the road this week with upcoming tour dates in the South, Northeast, Colorado, and more, as well as festival appearances at Peach Music Festival, Newport Jazz Festival, All IN Festival, and more. Click below for a list of upcoming dates and for more information and tickets, visit the band’s website.

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead 2023 Tour Dates:

MAY 10, 2023 – Salvage Station – Asheville, NC
MAY 11, 2023 – Ting Pavilion – Charlottesville, VA
MAY 12, 2023 – Pier Six Pavilion – Baltimore, MD
MAY 13, 2023 – Westville Music Bowl – New Haven, CT
JUN 3, 2023 – Red Rocks Amphitheatre – Morrison, CO
JUN 4, 2023 – Red Rocks Amphitheatre – Morrison, CO
JUN 30, 2023 – Summerfest – Milwaukee, WI
JUL 2, 2023 – Peach Music Festival – Scranton, PA
JUL 27, 2023 – Pier 17 – New York, NY
AUG 4, 2023 – Newport Jazz Festival – Newport, RI
AUG 5, 2023 – Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom – Hampton, NH
AUG 6, 2023 – Maine Savings Amphitheatre – Bangor, ME
AUG 10, 2023 – Roanoke Island Festival Park – Outer Banks, NC
AUG 12, 2023 – Leader Bank Pavilion – Boston, MA
AUG 13, 2023 – Stateside Amphitheater at Jay Peak Resort – Jay, VT
SEP 9, 2023 – All In Festival – Indianapolis, IN
SEP 15, 2023 – SEP 16, 2023 – Cave Mountain Catskills Music Festival – Windham, NY
SEP 29, 2023 – Mempho Music Festival – Memphis, TN
OCT 13, 2023 – Frost Amphitheater – Stanford, CA
OCT 14, 2023 – Greek Theatre – Los Angeles, CA
OCT 26, 2023 – Suwannee Hulaween – Live Oak, FL

View Tour Dates

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “No Way Out” (The Allman Brothers Band) – 5/5/23

[Video: Andy Lee]

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “Time Fades Away” (Neil Young) – 5/5/23


Setlist: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead | The Fillmore  | New Orleans, LA | 5/5/23 

Set 1: Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo > Rain (The Beatles) > Uncle John’s Band > Man Smart, Women Smarter (King Radio) > China Cat Sunflower > Time Fades Away (Neil Young) > Tell Me Mama (Bob Dylan)

Set 2: Jam > Brown Eyed Women > Deep Elem Blues > Feels Like A Stranger > Spacey Drums > He’s Gone > Lady With A Fan > Terrapin Station > At A Siding

Encore: Sugar Magnolia

Setlist: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead | The Fillmore | New Orleans, LA | 5/6/23

Set 1: Jam > Let It Grow, Rubin and Cherise (Jerry Garcia Band) > Me and Bobby McGee (Kris Kristofferson) > Cats Under the Stars (Jerry Garcia Band) > Cumberland Blues, Throwing Stones

Set 2: St. Stephen, Help on the Way > Slipknot! > Alligator > One Way Out (Sonny Boy Williamson) > Shakedown Street > Truckin’

Encore: Rosalita (Come Out Tonight) (Bruce Springsteen)