Drummer and bandleader Joe Russo brought out his team of all-stars on Saturday night in New Haven, CT to finish their ninth show of the summer at Westville Music Bowl.
The first eight shows featured no repeats, but this final, well-placed show between nearby Dead & Company shows was meant to be an unbound event where they would have free reign of the Dead’s catalog and beyond. As Joe alluded to in an interview with Live For Live Music earlier this summer, “I think that last Saturday (September 4th) is just going to be a celebration of the whole pie. We’re just going to get to pick from whatever the hell we want.”
Russo, keyboardist Marco Benevento, and bassist Dave Drowitz kicked off the night jamming the honky-tonk tune “Don’t Ease Me In” with Scott Metzger and Tom Hamilton joining in soon after on their respective six strings. Hamilton then led us through the lyrics followed by a quick transition into a rendition of Jerry Garcia Band’s “Cats Under The Stars” that took many different forms during its expansive life on stage that night. A highlight was a slowed-down, acid-jazzed-out jam that featured Benevento sprinkling in syncopated notes from the high end of his device.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “Don’t Ease Me In”, “Cat’s Under The Stars”, “Tell Me Mama” – New Haven, CT – 9/4/21
Scott channeled Bob Dylan for a rare tune, “Tell Me, Momma” before moving into Merle Haggard cover and Grateful Dead staple “Mama Tried”, preceded by a tease of the Allman Brothers Band’s “Jessica” from Tom that had Joe Russo’s head rolling back in laughter. It’s great to see our favorite Grateful Dead tribute band having a good time in front of a delighted audience during these weary times.
Tom Hamilton then led us through the first of three American Beauty tunes of the night with “Candyman” before Metzger took the audience through the second, “Truckin’”. Hamilton began the tune with some psychedelic scratching of his low E-string accompanied by a plethora of pedal effects. The band once again dabbled in some avant-garde jazz fusion reminiscent of Weather Report before they quickly peeled back into rock n’ roll with a powerful solo by Tom as Joe drove the band through the airwaves to arrive at Metzger’s familiar voice singing us the ever-relevant reflection, “what a long, strange trip it’s been.”
After the set break, JRAD took the stage and didn’t stop playing for nearly an hour. Metzger took the reins once again for set-opener “Feel Like A Stranger” followed by “Help On The Way”, which took a foreshadowing Pink Floyd-esque turn into spacey psychedelia before landing at its traditional successor, “Slipknot!”
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “Feel Like A Stranger” – New Haven, CT – 9/4/21
Next came a “Throwing Stones” jam sandwich with the highly danceable “Shakedown Street” as the filling. After the “Throwing Stones” reprise and nearly an hour straight of nonstop music, the members of the band finally took a quick break between songs to retune and regroup.
JRAD’s earlier Pink Floyd-esque leanings came full circle next as Hamilton absolutely nailed lead guitar on the band’s awe-inspiring debut of “Comfortably Numb”. Joe Russo was totally engulfed in fog during Hamilton’s solo as the dense clouds blew their way to Tom and Marco. Landing with tactical precision back in the Grateful Dead songbook, the band then wove through a delicate, captivating “Morning Dew”.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “Comfortably Numb” – New Haven, CT – 9/4/21 – Partial Video
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “Morning Dew” – New Haven, CT – 9/4/21 – Partial Video
[Video: Evan franks]
Ahead of the encore, Westville Music Bowl promoter Dave Niedbalski (Lovely Day Presents) strode onstage to thank the band and the many repeat fans in the audience for nine fantastic JRAD shows at the new venue this year. To commemorate the achievement, the venue unfurled a 9-show commemorative banner along the balcony ledge, enshrining the band as the first member of the Westville “wall of fame.” As an added surprise, fans received poster-sized copies of the banner on the way out of the venue.
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Joe Russo’s Almost Dead came back out and encored with an obligatory “One More Saturday Night”. Benevento knew this was his time to shine as he tickled his way into our hearts once again. The last song of the night was “Sugar Magnolia”, and jams were going as usual when late in the song a flying Praying Mantis—the official state insect of Connecticut—landed on Joe’s mic stand and made itself comfortable on his drum kit for the remainder of the song. The omen of good luck was a perfect way to end the night, and 9-show run.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead returns to the stage with a two-night run at Salvage Station in Asheville, NC on September 24th–25th. For tickets and a full list of tour dates visit the band’s website.
Scroll down to check out some images from Joe Russo’s Almost Dead at Westville Music Bowl courtesy of photographers Andrew Blackstein and Vic Brazen respectively, as well a full show audio thanks to taper cabinetmusic.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – Westville Music Bowl – New Haven, CT – 9/4/21
Setlist: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead | Westville Music Bowl | New Haven, CT | 9/4/21
Set One: Don’t Ease Me In > Cats Under The Stars > Tell Me, Momma > Mama Tried, Candyman, Truckin’
Set Two: Feel Like A Stranger > Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Throwing Stones > Shakedown Street > Throwing Stones Reprise > Comfortably Numb > Morning Dew
Encore: One More Saturday Night