Joe Russo’s Almost Dead (JRAD) Serves A Scorcher At LA’s Greek Theatre With Help From Eric D. Johnson (Fruit Bats) (SHOW REVIEW/PHOTOS)

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead celebrated the return of their eponymous leader at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles on August 16, 2019. Russo had missed the band’s last two shows weeks earlier for a very good reason, for instead of leading his band in their signature long jams of Grateful Dead tunes he was with his wife to witness the birth of their second daughter. 

Back in action on a beautiful Friday night on August 16 at one of L.A.’s iconic outdoor music venues, Russo and the talented group of Almost Dead musicians played reinterpreted Grateful Dead classics for over three hours to the utter delight of several thousand rabid fans. It was a blissful night for Deadheads (and newbie fans as well) as the band hit on many of the seminal tunes the audience came hoping to hear.

The band started strongly with a massive jam on “Dancin’ in the Streets,” a rousing opening that led into an epic four-song first set. Special guest Stuart Bogie, the multi-instrumentalist from Antibalas and Superhuman Happiness, joined the group for the entire show. His saxophone, flute and clarinet contributions blended beautifully with the talented assemblage of regular virtuosos that make Almost Dead such a delight to see. “Dancin’”segued into “Eyes of the World” as the band launched into a long, trippy instrumental interlude led by incredible guitar solos by Scott Metzger and Tommy Hamilton.

Keyboardist Marco Benevento displayed his fantastic piano skills with a pretty solo during “Let It Grow.” He also played a great solo within their slow-burning, epic version of “Terrapin Station.” Bogie offered hypnotizing solos with both his flute and saxophone. The band really connected with the audience as the song built up to the singalong chorus. Hamilton, Metzger, Russo and Benevento all harmonized and encouraged the crowd to join in, which they did enthusiastically as the set ended.

The second set opened with a heartfelt speech by Russo. He thanked the band for soldiering on without him at the earlier shows in July. He also gave props to his nephew and drum tech, Evan Roque, who filled in for him admirably at the shows (along with John Morgan Kimock). Finally, Russo introduced Eric D. Johnson from the Fruit Bats, who came out to sing and play guitar on “Unbroken Chain.” 

Johnson left the stage as they segued into a sizzling “Lost Sailor” with Metzger taking over the lead vocals, which then transitioned into “Saint of Circumstance.” The crowd got involved again during a brilliant “Shakedown Street” as pulsing chants and waving arms filled the theatre. Benevento played another amazing keyboard solo and the band showed off their exceptional cohesion as they kept switching the tempo from slow to fast and back again. 

The band revisited set one’s “Let It Grow” before getting the crowd singing again for “Brown Eyed Women.” Bogie’s flute solo during that song was particularly impressive. Later, Metzger and Bogie got the spotlight for a compelling guitar and sax intro as the rest of the band watched. The other musicians eventually joined in and the crowd went crazy as they recognized the building melody for “Truckin’.” 

Ween and JRAD bassist Dave Dreiwitz was subdued for much of the show, but his rhythmic strumming on this song typified his role as the foundation for the band’s successful sound. They wrapped up the set as the audience sang the prophetic line “what a long strange trip it’s been.”

There was no doubt about an encore, but no one expected what JRAD delivered. As the band came back out to loud cheers, Russo again thanked the audience, the band and said how much he loved playing in L.A. He also dedicated the next two songs to his wife. Eric D. Johnson was back for this segment and sang beautiful versions of The Zombies’ “This Will Be Our Year” and his Fruit Bats’ song “When You Love Somebody.” The sweet songs proved to be an unexpected treat as the band got the crowd to join in for some rapid hand clapping. 

The next surprise came when Russo talked about meeting Johnson at a “Last Waltz” tribute show. As he teased what they would play, Johnson put down his guitar and moved to center stage with just a mic. The band started playing and Johnson belted out an eerily accurate version of Van Morrison’s “Caravan.” His vocal tone and timing with the intricate instrumentals were brilliant.

Johnson left the stage to loud applause and Evan Roque joined the core band for the finale. Roque kneeled next to his Uncle Joe and the two percussionists blasted on the shared drum kit, with the band members joining in for a very trippy intro that launched “Not Fade Away.” The song took the usual improvisational turns as Benevento, Hamilton, Metzger and Bogie each had a chance to blast delicious solos. The frenzied jam finally slowed and the volume faded as the lights dimmed. 

As the band abandoned their instruments and walked off the stage, the crowd kept singing and clapping, hoping for more. It was not to be, but they definitely got their fill from these amazing musicians who bring a unique precision and modern interpretation to the amazing Grateful Dead catalog.

Joe Russo's Almost Dead Setlist Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, CA, USA 2019

Live photos courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©2019.

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