On Sunday evening, November 11, 2018 as California was burning at both ends, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead brought their exciting 2018 Fall Tour to a close last night at the Fox Theater in Oakland, CA. Among the show’s highlights: the band opened with an hour-long dive into the Terrapin Station Suite.

Following an exciting two nights at The Wiltern in Los Angeles, including an entire set with Dead & Company guitarist John Mayer, rumors were flying in Oakland. “Is Bobby still on tour?” “You think Phil is even in the Bay right now?” “I don’t know what they’re planning but it’s going to rip!”

Although there were no sit-ins, the magic of the evening was no less. From the opening notes of improvisational piano feelers to the end of the last thundering drum kick, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead play through every segue and change in a continuous barrage of jazz and a touch of modernity.

The show started and ended an hour earlier than Saturday night. At 7:30 pm, drummer, vocalist, and bandleader Joe Russo took to center stage, flanked by his band. From stage right to left, keyboardist Marco Benevento, guitarist/vocalist Tom Hamilton, Russo, Ween bassist Dave Dreiwitz and guitarist/vocalist Scott Metzger bookending stage left.

The intro jam was slow. Slower than tuning, slower than “Space”. It took the audience a good 15 minutes to really catch on and start listening–for the most part, they never really stopped talking. But by 8:45, the band had built the sound up into a wild cacophony of weird, uplifting harmonic squeals and punctuating rhythms that got most people’s attention. A minute later, they settled into the recognizable melody and verse of “Lady With A Fan”. While Hamilton handled lead vocal duties, Russo chimed in the background.

The oil, water and light show that served as the entirety of the light design was roaring at this point. Mad Alchemy, a mainstay of the original San Francisco psychedelic scene, provided the “analog liquid light show” that dazzled fans all night long. A vague appearance of the iconic Grateful Dead stealie was morphing and bubbling in and out of appearance.

Following the “Lady With A Fan” section of the Terrapin Suite, Benevento took the lead and wound everything down. Bringing away from the harsh and off-key melodies and back into the mellow tuning space of the opening motif, and setting up the next segue.

Shortly after 8 pm, the pulsating images broke and the melody shifted gears into the crux of “Terrapin Station”. The chatterboxes began speculating harder if Lesh might make an appearance, given the song inspired the naming of Terrapin Crossroads, his San Rafael venue where farm to table food and live music meet, but he never appeared in person. A four-minute jaunt through Hamilton’s guitar acrobatics gave way to Benevento yet again. Russo quickly took the music into a jazzy, pulsating cacophony before they wrapped up another verse and slid into “The Other One” around 40 minutes into the set at 8:10 pm.

Led by Metzger on vocals, the song picked up on the floor of the Fox. Metzger and Benevento traded leads until the band peaked into a transition at 8:18 pm. Without breaking the music, Dreiwitz took a moment in the spotlight playing over haunting layers of synth from Benevento, dancing between the off-kilter melodies swirling together in “Terrapin Station”. The band turned another few corners, from the instrumental connector “Terrapin Transit” quickly “At A Siding” and into a rambunctiously drum-heavy “Terrapin Flyer” to close the set at 8:30.

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “Jam > Lady With A Fan > Terrapin Station > The Other One > Terrapin Transit/At A Siding/Terrapin Flyer”

[Video: Must Have Media]

The second set started just after 9 pm following a 30-minute set break, opening with a soft bass line and heavy on the light and jazzy keys. Within the first two minutes, everyone on stage was kicking hard in the groove. There was something special about the tightness, yet how incredibly natural and loose it came across. It was an absolutely fitting moment where the tribute to the legacy of the Grateful Dead was on high display, and Metzger launched into the first verse of “Good Lovin’”.

Metzger took the lead on the first jam as well, before trading off to Benevento who then gave way to Hamilton before hitting a stride in the chorus at 9:12 pm. An off-beat jazzy motif ruled the sound space until a hard stop segue into “Viola Lee Blues” hit at 9:20.

The band continued to mesh and thrive as a singular unit while a Rorschach of psychedelic imagery swirled and pulsated above their heads. From jam to jam and song to song, it appeared as though Mad Alchemy was focusing on insect and animal skull patterns. But just like listening to the Grateful Dead, as soon as you thought you knew what you were seeing, it was changing into something new before your eyes.

By 9:30 pm, JRAD had moved into double time and beyond before letting the music collapse back into the main melody of “Viola Lee Blues”. The music burned through the air and by 9:33 pm the entire building was bouncing to “Shakedown Street”–the first Dead original of the set.

Following a stellar jam through “Shakedown”, the crowd must have tipped a boiling point. As JRAD tried to slow things down at 9:45 pm with “Let It Grow” and “Morning Dew” to close the set, bringing the music to nearly a whisper, the audience seemed to grow louder and had no trouble talking over the music. An attempt to quiet the crowd was made from different corners of the room, but luckily it wasn’t long before the music picked back up. As the lyrics say, “It doesn’t matter anyway.”

The set ended at 10:30 pm, and two minutes later the band was back on stage for a single song encore of “Not Fade Away”, which ironically ended with the audience clapping and fading the song away.

Below, you can checkout photos of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead’s Sunday night Oakland show, courtesy of Must Have Media.

Setlist: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead | Fox Theater | Oakland, CA | 11/11/18

I: Jam > Lady With A Fan > Terrapin Station > The Other One > Terrapin Transit/At A Siding/Terrapin Flyer

II: Good Lovin’, Viola Lee Blues, Shakedown Street, Let It Grow, Morning Dew

E: Not Fade Away