Every summer there’s one show on The Rooftop at Pier 17 that renders all other shows on the calendar obsolete. Last year, it was Trey Anastasio’s sit-in with Billy Strings. This year, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead brought the mid-summer heat to Manhattan’s Seaport neighborhood. The 3,500 eager attendees filled in the rooftop’s standing room amid a sweltering humid day that overpowered the cool breeze coming off the surrounding water. The crowd would experience much different weather after the show was stopped early, but much to come before then…
Joe Russo, Scott Metzger, Tom Hamilton, Marco Benevento, and Dave Dreiwitz emerged onstage and immediately launched into an extensive “Playing in the Band” opener before shuffling into the soaring grooves of “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo”. Like an affectionate companion scratching an audiophile’s musical acnestis, the jams flowed incessantly as “The Music Never Stopped” surged into a powerful “Bertha”. Wave after wave of music crashed over the audience, radiating pure euphoria on their faces and with their free-spirited dance moves.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “Playing In The Band” [Pro-Shot] – 7/27/23
For only the 18th time in the band’s history—and the third time this year—JRAD performed Bob Dylan’s “Tell Me, Momma” before finishing the first set with a pair of classic Grateful Dead tunes. As the sun set and the city skylines turned alive with the glow of lights, JRAD wound down the first set with a beloved “Scarlet Begonias” and a closing rendition of “Touch of Grey”.
Barging into the second set, JRAD reached into its well to cover Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle” for only the seventh time ever before embracing “Here Comes the Sunshine”—ironically jamming out to this tune just after sunset. JRAD charged into the second set wielding sprawling jams that connected and sometimes overlapped.
A behemoth “Throwing Stones” broke down into a scintillating “Wharf Rat” (“Way down, down, down by the docks of the city”) before a rumbling “Truckin’” kicked the tempo back into high gear to roll the unstoppable vehicle down FDR Drive (“New York / got the ways and means”).
During a rare pause, the humidity broke and the audience basked in the refreshing breeze that swirled around the rooftop venue. The crowd shook off heat exhaustion to dance with newfound energy as JRAD served up a particularly precise “St. Stephen”. The band transformed into a five-piston engine pumping out pure heat during its synchronous build-ups, crests, and starry-skied valleys.
Taking a leaf out of the notebook of its Peach Music Festival compadres Australian Pink Floyd, JRAD performed Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V)” for the third time ever. After an appropriately esoteric introduction sliced through the night with the meticulousness of a surgeon’s scalpel and a force comparable to a stampede of rhinoceros, the band’s arrangement of talents was on full display. Even more so, the band called upon Stuart Bogie and his saxophone for a triumphant and complete interpretation of the song’s movements and complexities.
When the humidity broke, most attendees were so relieved that they didn’t even consider the subsequent front moving in. As the raucous cheering for the Floyd cover subsided, JRAD started to build into the well-known rhythm of The Crickets’ “Not Fade Away” before the darkened skies illuminated with streaking tendrils of lightning. This was no anomaly it seemed. Consecutive lightning forks mesmerized the audience who sadly turned around to watch the weather change after the music dropped out.
Joe Russo voiced that they “want to keep playing but…” and another fork cut him off lighting up the surrounding skyline once more. On cue, the monitors declared the show over and asked everyone to peacefully make their way toward the buildings’ exits. Just like that, many of the audience members including this writer couldn’t help but wonder what the encore was lined up to be. An irrelevant theoretical ending to an epic night of Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Otis Redding, and Pink Floyd tunes, proving even in its shortened time why JRAD is one of the best bands doing it.
‘Twas a quintessential appetizer for music lovers who at this very moment are currently driving, riding trains, flying, or even swimming toward the Big Apple for the approaching seven nights of Phish at Madison Square Garden. Buckle up, straight-edges, things are about to get weird in Midtown.
Check out a gallery of images from Joe Russo’s Almost Dead at The Rooftop at Pier 17 courtesy of photographer Maggie Miles.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – The Rooftop At Pier 17 – New York, NY – 7/27/23
Setlist: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead | The Rooftop At Pier 17 | New York, NY | 7/27/23
Set One: Playing in the Band, Mississippi Half-Step Toodeloo, The Music Never Stopped, Bertha, Tell Me, Momma (Bob Dylan), Scarlet Begonias > Touch of Grey
Set Two: Hard to Handle (Otis Redding), Here Comes the Sunshine > Throwing Stones, Wharf Rat > Truckin’, St. Stephen > Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V) (Pink Floyd) , Not Fade Away
 w/ Stuart Bogie on saxophone