Joe Russo’s Almost Dead
Port Chester, New York
January 12-14, 2018
Completely Dead: Music, Celebration, Community and Excess
Photos and review by JD Cohen
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The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester New York is the holy shrine for all things Grateful Dead and the community of fans looking for their next live music fix. The Grateful Dead played 13 shows at the Capitol Theatre and some fans think those shows were some of the best the band ever played.
On Friday Joe Russo’s almost Dead retuned to the Capitol, kicking off 2018 with a three night stand that would be their tenth, eleventh and twelth shows in the venue. JRAD’s previous shows were held on December 17 and 18 at the Boston House of Blues and although those shows were well received, the mood was decidedly different. Extraordinarily tight security, adversarial staff and long lines that resulted in many fans getting into the concert late left concert goers feeling unwelcome and unwanted at the Boston venue.
The experience at the Capitol Theatre couldn’t be any more different from Boston as staff, many of whom have been working at the Cap for years and are themselves big music fans, know many of the concert goes by name. The line outside the Capitol on Friday was smaller than usual for a band that usually has fans queuing up before noon to get spots up front on the rail. For this run fans devised a numbering system to make sure people were given entrance according to when they arrived and did not get delayed by bag searches, allowing others behind them to get in sooner.
Internet chatter had reached a fever pitch as fans prepared for Friday’s show. Each night was given a theme and Friday was crazy hat night. Although most JRAD fans were originally attracted to the band as a result of a yearning to fill a void that the Grateful Dead left in their lives after Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995, the atmosphere around the band has been unique to JRAD and not so much a replication of the Grateful Dead experience.
The band has been extremely accessible and followers tended to be serious music lovers who were more enamored with the quality of the musicianship more than any individual band member. For the vast majority, it was a passion more than a fetish. No band has been fetishized more than the Grateful Dead and initially Joe Russo’s Almost Dead was a rebirth of the Grateful Dead experience, where it was truly the music and the improvisation that mattered most: not the symbols, iconography, hero worship or the merchandise. A live JRAD show was musical, not spiritual.
But the band has grown in popularity and with the larger crowds have come changes and new challenges for the organization, the musicians and the fans. Often mimicking the Grateful Dead experience on and off stage, people are now coming to JRAD shows with other things on their mind than just the music. Everything around the band has become slightly amped up and little things that seemed cute and fun now seem a little more serious and intense. From drugs use to merchandising, everything is getting bigger. Even the dancing in the halls and in the balcony is reaching Grateful Dead like levels.
Recent JRAD shows are starting to have the same feel of the early mid period Grateful Dead. All three nights of the Capitol Theatre were sold out, some would say oversold, as barriers had to be moved closer to the stage to accommodate additional ticket sales. It should be noted that even with the more than packed house, Capitol Theater staff and security maintained their usual high standards of service, positive attitude and crowd control.
Even on Saturday night when the party crowned and an unusually high number of rowdy drunks and drug fueled crazies are in attendance the mood inside the Capitol remains mostly positive. The fans commitment to the venue remains strong to the point of active support and this JRAD run likely only increased the fans devolution to its owner Peter Shapiro. Shapiro is the Pied Piper of the modern day Grateful Dead scene and fans know that without his organization quality music venues like the Capitol Theatre, the Brooklyn Bowl and LOCKN’ Festival probably wouldn’t exists. There is no doubt that the Capitol is a special place and you feel it as soon as you come in off the street and walk through the front doors. You can feel the history of the building which has been restored to its original grandeur by Shapiro who invested more than 2 million dollars when he purchased the theatre in 2011.
Despite the party hats and exuberance of the crowd, Friday night show started slow and meandering, with a funky and beautiful almost 7 minute jam that lead into Brow Eyed Women. It was almost as if the band was communicating to the audience that they should settle in for what would be a long three nights, taking their time and for what would undoubtedly be a long strange trip. Brown Eyed Woman and Jack Straw where more uplifting and upbeat with the usual JRAD crescendos and peaks, fueled by Tom Hamilton’s blazing guitar leads and Joe Russo’s pounding and furious drums. Things slowed down again abruptly with a 20 minute version of the Wheel that was spacy and elegant. The introduction included some beautiful classical piano from Marco Benevento on grand piano, while Tom and Scott Metzger added sharp and psychedelic guitar coloring until the vocals kicked in eight minutes into the song, ͞”The wheel is turning and you can’t slow down, You can’t let go and you can’t hold on, You can’t go back and you can’t stand still, If the thunder don’t get you then the lightning will.͟”
Estimated Prophet and The Other One took things in an even more sinister direction as the band dove deeper into moody and dark psychedelia . There was an anger and aggressiveness to these songs that was thrilling and exciting and a little dangerous. This was definitely not your typical good times party music. It was not what people expected or came prepared for but it was thrilling none the less and demonstrates one of the reasons people love the band so much. There is a feeling that anything can happen on any given night and fans have come to expect the unexpected even as the songs themselves are so familiar and well-known.
Changing the pace abruptly the band launched into one of the Dead’s classic party songs Shakedown Street but somehow retaining the dark mood playing the usually upbeat song with a certain fast pace and aggressiveness, “͞You tell me this town ain’t got no heart (well, well, well, you can never tell). The sunny side of the street is dark͟.”
The second set kicked off with the first time played The Charlie Monroe bluegrass cover Rosalie McFall, a song typically done by the Grateful Dead in an acoustic setting. Next was a song Joe announced was requested by his sister who was in attendance, Throwing Stones. The song was sort of a throw away for the Grateful Dead but staple during the early 80’s live shows. JRAD has truly made it their own injecting new life into the song and making it more of a musical tour de force than the political statement intended by Bob Weir when he introduced it back in 1982.
Keeping the mood of the night the songs gets aggressive and haunting mid-way through before Scott Metzger leads the crew though the final powerful moments as the song reaches its peak. Tom Hamilton took lead vocals on the beautiful and sad Bruce Spingsteen cover Atlantic City. Tom Hamilton wrings every bit of emotion out of the song, making it his own. The heart of night one, the exciting series of Franklins Tower-Help on the Way-Slipknot-Feel Like a Stranger-Let it Grow brought everyone in the house to their feet and the show to a close. Up in the balcony you could feel the floor pulsating to the rhythm of the music as fans danced furiously.
The only Grateful Dead song to be a hit single ͞Touch of Grey͟ was the encore that finished the night. Saturday night shows tend to be a little different than most other nights especially the audience in attendance. That has become especially true for JRAD.
As the band has grown in popularity word is out that a JRAD show is good place to party on a Saturday night. This leads to more drunk people in attendance, lots of loud talking and an experience that is sometimes less than positive. The second night show seemed designed for the hard charging Saturday night party crowd. Unlike Friday which started with a spacey and melodic jam, Saturday started happy and upbeat right from the start with the Grateful Dead favorite an often played Scarlet Begonias, leading into Sugaree, Fire on the Mountain and Good Lovin’ all played at top speed and with the usual JRAD proficiency and dexterity.
Listening to the opening Scarlet Begonias you can hear the band leaning into the song, playing to the fans excitement right from the start. Seven minutes into the song it gets a little spacey but not in an aggressive or dark way that seemed to characterize the previous night’s jams. Sugaree is lilting, soulful and relaxed, with some nice Hammond B3 organ work from Benevento. The guitar work is slow and sweet, reminiscent of Jerry Garcia at his most tender. Fire on Mountain bright and cheerful. The crowd cheers in approval as Tom Hilton fires off blistering guitar runs. The sing along Good Lovin’ characterizes the mood of the night, played early in the set to let fans know exactly what they can expect. ͞”I got the fever, Baby, Baby, but you’ve got the cure. I said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah Yes, indeed, all I really need, Is good lovin’ Gimme that good, good lovin͟.”
The remainder of the night followed in the same vein with They Love Each Other, the first time played and rocking Pride of Cucamonga and a 20 minute long exploratory and majestic Playing in the Band closed out the first set. The second set started with a straight ahead Row Jimmy leading into the extended Terrapin Station before transitioning into the monster rock n’ roll of I Need a Miracle. The transition from Terrapin into I Need a Miracle was jarring but one of the feats that makes JRAD so exciting and interesting. Terrapin is a lush and complex orchestrated suite, JRADS ability to seamlessly transition from that song into the hard driving blues rock shuffle of I Need A Miracle and somehow make it all work perfectly is an impressive feat. Led Zeppelin’s Your Time is Gonna Come with hints of Dear Mr. Fantasy was a wonderful treat and intro to Ramble on Rose. Beautiful images of flowers and roses were projected onto the walls of the Capitol Theater during the song. A short jam with some Dave Driewitz funks bass lead into Music Never Stopped and Cat’s Down Under the Stars.
The night closed out with a raging and fast paced Going Down the Road Feeling Bad and We Bid You Goodnight. Another feel good surprise for the encore was Chuck Berry’s The Festival sung solo by Marco Benevento on grand piano.
The band came out together for one final encore I know You Rider. An informal survey indicated that Saturday was the highlight of the three day run. That may be colored by the whatever pharmaceuticals or beverages were ingested but there is no doubt that the whole mood and the spirit of the show was more upbeat designed to please fans who came to party with the band on one more Saturday night.
They say never miss a Sunday night show and that was certainly good advice for the final night of JRAD at the Cap. From the start you could feel the difference in the energy and the makeup of the audience. The barriers in the front had been moved back to their regular position and although there was plenty of excitement and high spirits, there seemed to be more space to move around and the crowd was less wild and drunk. Everything about the theater had a warm glow. If Saturday was a show for the party crowd, Sunday would be for family and the tight group of JRAD loyalists.
The mood was set early by a wonderful pre-show in Garcia’s, a bar attached the Capitol main theater. Chris Hartford a long term friend and something of a mentor to the band. Garcia’s was packed as Harftord along with Russo, Metzger and Driewitz played on a stage adorned with Hartford’s artwork to a room of adoring fans. There was an overwhelming feeling of love and adoration in the room that was somehow inconceivably intimate for a band that has reached JRAD’s level of popularity. The pre-show again confirmed the feeling surrounding the band that fans are experiencing something unique and very special. Within the ever growing inner circles of the band an undeniable sense of community and family is tremendously strong. The Talking Heads cover Heaven was a highlight of the show and captured the mood perfectly.
Sunday’s main event started at 9:00pm with a rollicking Samson & Delilah with Marco adding plenty of flushes on grand piano and keyboards. Next came China Cat Sunflower, a jam heavy favorite but not an over the top crowd pleaser. Unlike Saturday night, the music seemed more relaxed, taking it’s time without the urgency of the previous night but also more upbeat and less moody and spacey than Friday.
Rubin and Cherise, another favorite of the more serious Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia fans also took its time developing, the song unfolds over the course of almost 12 minutes with a delicate and subtle beauty before building in intensity toward its final end and transition into Truckin’ where the band was joined on stage by Stuart Bogie on horns and again on Tennessee Jed. An extended 15 minute Greatest Story with some feverish jamming closed out the first set.
The final set of the weekend started with the traditional calypso Man Smart, Women are Smarter featuring Stuart Bogie again on clarinet, giving the song a New Orleans feel. Bogie remained on stage and switched to saxophone for Bertha, where he took an extended solo mid-way through the song giving it a 1950’s rock n’ roll quality before the band descended back into their high energy guitar driven jam and Russo’s furious pounding drums. Anthem of the Sun’s Alligator followed with Scott Metzger shining on vocals and guitar after which the band brought the energy back down with a beautiful instrumental rendition of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon. Marco’s delicate piano work accompanied by Stuart Bogie again on Saxophone was simply gorgeous and seemed uniquely suited for the elegant architecture and surroundings of the Capitol Theatre. The song was also particularly well suited as the introduction to Eyes of the World.
After Cumberland Blues, the highlight of the night, and possibly of the entire run came next, a 27 minute Dancing in the Streets that seemed as if it would never end. Following a funky shuffle with a Dire Straits Money for Nothing jam the song takes full flight and launches into the stratosphere. It seems as if everyone is playing funk leads with Stuart Bogie wailing on saxophone, Dave Dreiwitz throbbing bass and Marco Benevento driving keyboards. The guitars kick in full throttle 14 minutes into the song then descends into 1970 era Miles Davis with Bogie setting a haunting mood on flute. It’s during jams like these that there is a sense that the band could do anything at any time, and that there is no script. For fans, it’s moments like these that make the music exciting, always fresh and an adventure.
Although Russo is the clear leader of the band, the Dancing in the Streets jam is one of the best examples form this run of band in full collaboration with no identifiable leader and everyone locked in, playing in perfect unison. It’s impressive and the JRAD audience is smart enough to appreciate the quality of the music they are experiencing. It’s inspirational, it’s joyous and contagious. As if to further prove their unpredictability, Dave Derweitz leads the band though the Dr. Feelgood nugget ͞She Does It Right, a song completely from left field. The final encore is the first time played China Town Shuffle.
The band heads to Nashville next before they do a swing in the mid-west and back to the northeast.
January 12, 2018
Setlist (Compiled by Peter Costello)
Set One (9:04PM – 10:27PM): Jam -> Brown Eyed Women -> Jack Straw > Jam -> The Wheel @ -> Estimated Prophet -> The Other One # > Shakedown St $ -> Here Comes Sunshine Jam
Set Two (11:08PM – 12:39AM): Rosa Lee Mcfall % (TH), Throwing Stones^, Atlantic City & -> Slipknot! * -> Franklin’s Tower > Slipknot! * -> Help On The Way -> Slipknot! + -> Feel Like A Stranger @@ > Jam -> Let It Grow Enc: Touch of Grey @ – With ͞Girl From Ipanema͟ (music by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Portuguese lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes. English lyrics by Norman Gimbel) and ͞Dear Prudence͟ (The Beatles) teases (MB) # – With a Purple Haze Tease (SM) & a variation (a really fast variation) on a Love Supreme (John Coltrane) jam (Band) $ – With a Brown Eyed Women Tease (SM), and The Wheel, China Cat Sunflower and Here Comes Sunshine Teases (TH) % – First Time Played by Almost Dead, Charlie Monroe cover ^ – By Request for Joe’s sister on her birthday, with a Brown Eyed Women Tease and a Cats Under the Stars Tease (TH) & – Not played since Ogden Theater, Denver, CO 2017.04.28, a gap of 29 shows / 8.5 ish months * – Short snippets…+ – Full Song @@ – With a ͞Your Kiss Is On My List͟ (Hall & Oates) Tease (MB/Band)
January 12, 2018
Setlist (Compiled by Peter Costello)
Set One (9:00PM – 10:19PM): Scarlet Begonias -> Sugaree @ -> Fire On The Mountain # -> Good Lovin $ -> They Love Each Other %, Pride Of Cucamonga ^, Playing In The Band
Set Two (10:54PM – 12:40AM): Row Jimmy -> Jam & -> Lady With A Fan & + -> Terrapin Station & -> I Need A Miracle @@ -> Your Time Is Gonna Come ## -> Ramble On Rose, Music Never Stopped $$, Cats Under The Stars %% -> GDTRFB ^^ -> We Bid You Goodnight && Enc: Marco Solo -> The Festival ** -> I Know You Rider ++ @ – With an ͞I’m The Only One͟ (Melissa Ethridge) Tease & a Fire On the Mountain Tease (TH) # – With Sugaree Lyrics (TH) $ – With a short Fire On the Mountain Jam % – With a Shakedown Tease (Band) ^ – First Time Played by Almost Dead. JR vocals & – With Playin & Terrapin Teases (TH) * –
note: I’m going to start labeling Terrapin part-by-part. ͞Lady With A Fan͟ goes from ͞Let my inspiration flow͟ to ͞ but he cannot be bought or sold͞ and ͞Terrapin Station͟ goes from ͞Inspiration, move me brightly͟ to ͞and the whistle is screaming: TERRAPIN͞. On this night, the second part of the ͞Suite͟ including ͟͞Terrapin͟, ͞Terrapin Transit͟, ͞At a Siding͟, ͞Terrapin Flyer͟& ͞Refrain͟ was not played at this show + – With a Marco Solo @@ – with a ͞Dear Mr. Fantasy͟ (Traffic) tease (TH) ## – First Time Played by Almost Dead. JR vocals. Partial version of a Led Zeppelin cover, 1st verse & chorus were sung. $$ – With a Fire On the Mountain Tease (TH) %% – With a ͞Duo Jam͟ and a ͞Hey Bulldog͟ (The Beatles) Jam (Band) ^^ – With Mountain Jam Teases (TH & then MB) && – Traditional instrumental ending to GDTRFB, with a short Cold Rain & Snow Jam (Band) ** – Chuck Berry cover, First Time Played by Almost Dead. ++ – With a Morning Dew Tease (TH) )
January 14, 2018
Set One (9:00PM – 10:14PM) Samson & Delilah China Cat Sunflower -> Ruben & Cerise -> Truckin’ @ % -> Jam # % -> Tennessee Jed # -> Greatest Story Ever Told ^
Set Two (10:52PM – 12:30AM) Man Smart, Woman Smarter $ Bertha @ > Mr. Charlie & > Harvest Moon Jam @ * -> Eyes Of The World @ + > Cumberland Blues @$ -> Dancing In The Streets @$ @@ Enc: She Does It Right ## Chinatown Shuffle $$
@ – With Stuart Bogie on tenor # – With Stuart Bogie on Flute $ – With Stuart Bogie on Clarinet % – With Ruben & Cerise Tease (TH) ^ – With a ͞She Does It Right͟ (Dr. Feelgood) Tease (SM) & – With a ͞Rainy Day Women #12 & 35͟ (Bob Dylan) Jam (Band) * – Instrumental, incomplete version of a Neil Young Cover (No lyrics were sung), First Time Played By Almost Dead, With Eyes of the World Teases + – With the ’73 Ending and a DD bass solo
@@ – With a ͞Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough͟ (Michael Jackson) Jam, a ͞Money For Nothing͟ (Dire Straits) Jam and a ͞Space͟ Jam, Stuart Bogie also contributed vocals at the end. ## – First Time Played by Almost Dead, Dr. Feelgood Cover, DD on Lead Vox $$ – First Time Played by Almost Dead, SM on Lead Vox
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