In honor of Jerry Garcia’s birthday this past weekend, bands all over the country are hitting the stage to play the Grateful Dead’s music. Friday night, fans far and wide were delighted to see their favorite Dead cover band, the beloved Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, as they graced the stage for the first installment of a two-night run at New Haven, CT’s Westville Music Bowl. Joe Russo and his team of all-stars featuring bassist Dave Dreiwitz, guitarists Scott Metzger and Tom Hamilton, and keyboardist Marco Benevento were ready to take the stage.
After an introductory jam, the ensemble went into a rich rendition of the quintessential Dead tune “Friend of the Devil”. At one point, Hamilton began borderline convulsing with his auditory weapon of choice clutched in his grasp; he somehow managed to pry out some eye-opening and ear-bending riffs.
Benevento then stepped in on the keys to class it up a bit before jamming their way into “Jack-A-Roe”. After the lyrics arrived Marco continued to flex his explosive talent on the piano. Master of guitar, Metzger let his instrument do the singing for the melody as the gleeful jams left smiles on faces all around. Hamilton finished up with the lyrics and took us away with his virtuosic guitar playing.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “Jam” -> “Friend Of The Devil” -> “Jack-A-Roe” – New Haven, CT, – 7/30/21
After a tasty solo, Metzger channeled Grateful Dead forefather Bob Weir for an impressive vocal performance of “Black Throated Wind” as Russo kept things going with his ever-thumping kick drum and plethora of heads and cymbals. Joe Russo really got into his groove late in the song, smiling doing a drum stick flip between raps on the brass.
After an expansive jam, the band dropped into “Jack Straw” with Metzger at lead vocals. Hamilton played his heart out near the end of the song which almost felt like he was leaving it all the table for an early set break. But they kept on truckin’—no not into that song, but into “Wharf Rat”—after an extended intro.
Hamilton took a very David Gilmour approach to an early spacious solo on “King Solomon’s Marbles” to wrap up the set.
Benevento had a stellar solo with the opening of set two and then took the helm on vocals on Bob Dylan and The Band’s baby “Yazoo Street Scandal” as Metzger took care of business on the 6-string. Before we knew it “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)” was underway. Hamilton broke a string midway through so Metzger stepped to the plate and took us to the literal end of the fretboard on his highlight of a solo.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “Jam” -> “Yazoo Street Scandal” > “The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)” – New Haven, CT, – 7/30/21
Dave Dreiwitz gave us the first hint at “Althea” as Hamilton beat around the main riff, instead putting his own flair on the tune. Metzger gave us our traditional lick and Tom dropped in with the vocals. After a lengthy “Althea” the crew came across “Lost Sailor” and then into the familiar adjacent tune “Saint of Circumstance” which Metzger once again had fans looking around for Bobby on stage.
Eric Johnson of Fruit Bats then joined the team with his trusty Martin, starting off with “China Doll” and then segueing into “Box of Rain” on lead vocals for both before the extended ensemble wrapped up the second set.
The encore took a deviation from the Dead’s catalog with Eric still on stage for a fun version of “Never Been To Spain” popularized by Three Dog Night and a Fruit Bats song penned by the man himself, “When U Love Somebody”. JRAD hadn’t played “Never Been To Spain” since 10/13/17 (101 shows) and hadn’t performed the Fruit Bats song since 8/16/19, or 25 shows.
Night two in Westville, with the usual suspects in their positions, the band eased into the American folk tale of the murderer “Stagger Lee” with Tom Hamilton eventually leading us on vocals after a tasteful prelude. Next was Bob Dylan’s lamenting tune “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” with Metzger on vocals, then trading blasting lead licks with Benevento and Hamilton, as Russo and Dreiwitz pumped the rhythm into this well-oiled machine.
Hamilton then gave us our first taste of what would be an expansive rendition of “West LA Fadeaway”. Marco slid from piano over to his organ to get funky while Russo got familiar with his abundant array of heads and cymbals.
Hamilton found his favorite two notes in the scale and showed the audience just how much he can squeeze out of them. The band then built up a crescendo into what seemed like the end of “Fadeaway” until the jam morphed back into the tune for another round of lyrics and tasty improv.
The quintet then segued into “I Need A Miracle” with Jolly Joe smiling away as he joined in on backup vocals. They then brought it down a notch and coaxed the audience in for a sullen but gripping elope from reality. Watch the set preview via the FANS livestream below.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “Stagger Lee” > “Stuck Inside of Mobile” -> “West L.A. Fadeaway” > “I Need A Miracle” – New Haven, CT, – 7/31/21
Still in a trance from the previous number, Tom then led us through the opening chorus of “Bird Song” only to float back into delirium for more spacious slow jams and avant-garde string work by Hamilton to close out the set.
Set two set off with Dave at lead for the first time of the night for a heartfelt “Broken Arrow” by The Band’s Robbie Robertson, with Tom Hamilton dabbling on the slide. The group then treated us to “Throwing Stones” as the jams fell like ashes until Marco started to attack the ivories and pouch the faces of the innocent awaiting souls in attendance, both physical and virtual. Check out the set preview via the FANS livestream below.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “Broken Arrow” > “Throwing Stones” – New Haven, CT, – 7/31/21
After a prolonged jam on “Stones”, “Ship of Fools” came next with Hamilton putting his voice box to work once again. The tune took a jazzy turn as bassist Dave Dreiwitz stumbled around the scale like a drunken First Mate with sea-legs well seasoned, as Benevento sprinkled in notes from the far starboard side of his device. Meanwhile, Russo stoked the fire with his syncopated rapping of the brass and skins.
The musical airwaves then gave way to a voyage through OG (Original Grateful) jam-fan favorite “Dark Star” that lived up to its celestial name. The echoing Pink Floyd-esque sounds brought to us by Marco on his Rhodes keyboard were accompanied by haunting organ licks with Metzger and Hamilton providing shrilling solos on top.
We were then treated to the first segment of “Terrapin Station Suite”. The story of the “Lady with a Fan” was only the beginning of a near 40-minute escapade through the Station. As they took us on the journey, the band as a whole flexed their musical prowess as they flew through various key changes and drum signatures in “Transit” to “Terrapin”. Later, Joe sang the last verse and then unleashed the beast for an impressive solo turned rumbling backbone for the ultimate jam to close out the set.
As the crew assumed their positions on stage, they brought the audience back to Earth with a sing-a-long crowd-favorite “Sugar Magnolia”, a proper encore to give the crowd some footing after a spacious “Terrapin” trek.
An uplifting solo by Tom and some belting vocals by Metzger, encompassed with Joe’s impressive last dance behind the drums for the weekend, brought us home properly after only 11 sprawling songs that added up to almost three hours of music night two in Westville: ending an eight-show stretch without repeats.
On Saturday, September 4th, Go To Haven will celebrate its grand finale with a one-off performance. The show—which takes place during Labor Day Weekend, on an off day for Dead & Company tour between Massachusetts and Connecticut—promises to be a truly special coda for the months-long engagement.
“Please do all the right stuff so we can keep doing this, we love you, thank you-thank you-thank you, get home safe,” Russo told the audience as the band departed on Saturday. Grab tickets for the Friday, September 4th finale of JRAD’s Go To Haven expanded residency here.
Scroll down to check out galleries from Joe Russo’s Almost Dead at Westville Music Bowl this past weekend courtesy of photographer Zach Pelletier.
Setlist: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead | Westville Music Bowl | New Haven, CT | 7/30/21 | Show #226
Set One (6:30 p.m. – 7:22 p.m.): Jam -> Friend Of The Devil -> Jack A Roe, Jam -> Black Throated Wind @ ->Jack Straw > Wharf Rat # -> King Solomon’s Marbles
Set Two (8:22 p.m. – 9:56 p.m.): MB Solo -> Yazoo St Scandal $ -> Jam % -> Golden Road To Unlimited Devotion, Althea > Lost Sailor ^ >, Saint Of Circumstance &, China Doll * +, Box Of Rain *
Encore: Never Been To Spain *, When You Love Somebody * @@
@ – With a Jack Straw Jam
# – With Dark Star Teases (TH)
$ – With Tennessee Jed Teases (Band)
% – With “Maze” (Phish) Teases (Band)
^ – With Let It Grow & Playing In the Band Teases (JR)
& – With Terrapin Station Teases (MB & TH) and a “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” (Four Tops/Holland-Dozier-Holland) Tease (DD)
* – With Eric D. Johnson (Fruit Bats) on Acoustic Guitar and Vocals
+ – Not Played by Almost Dead since 2017-10-13, Brooklyn Bowl Brooklyn, NY, a gap of 101 shows
@@ – Fruit Bats Cover, Not Played by Almost Dead since 2019-08-16, Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, CA, a gap of 25 shows
Pre Show Music: Costello’s Soul Spotify Playlist
Set Break Music: “Eisenhower” – The SLIP
Walk Out Music: “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” – Gladys Knight & the Pips
Setlist: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead | Westville Music Bowl | New Haven, CT | 7/31/21 | Show #227
Set One (6:35 p.m. — 7:44p p.m.): Stagger Lee > Stuck Inside of Mobile , —> West LA Fadeaway  > I Need A Miracle —> Bird Song ,,
Set Two (8:17 p.m. — 9:49p.m.): Broken Arrow , Throwing Stones ,, —> Ship of Fools  —> Dark Star  —> Terrapin Suite 
Encore: (9:51 p.m. — 10:00 p.m.): Sugar Magnolia
1: Bob Dylan cover
2: Slipknot! tease
3: Unbroken Chain jam
4: Stuck Inside of Mobile (Bob Dylan) tease
5: Echoes (Pink Floyd) jam
6: Pigs (Pink Floyd) jam
7: Robbie Robertson (The Band) cover
8: Also Sprach Zarathustra (Phish / Richard Strauss) tease
9: w/ “Ashes Ashes” vocal jam
10: w/ Duo Jam
11: First time played by JRAD
12: w/ ambient Marco Solo
13: My Pet Goat (Benevento/Russo Duo) jam