It has been over two years since Joe Russo’s Almost Dead performed in front of a Los Angeles-area audience. The COVID-19 pandemic shot down their 2020 scheduled performance, but now that the band is on the road again, JRAD finally hit the Palladium in Hollywood on October 22. They certainly made up for lost time.
These guys are so much more than a Grateful Dead cover band. Sure, their energetic interpretations of classic Dead tunes are unmatched, but it is their timing, nuance, song selection, and sequence that make the shows so special.
The Grateful Dead’s appreciation for some of their contemporary musicians and unique interpretations of some of those classic songs allow JRAD the same creative freedom. That ability to be unique, while still staying within the Dead tradition, showed itself throughout the show. JRAD set the tone immediately by opening the first set with Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle.” Scott Metzger was on lead vocals; throughout the show, both he and Tom Hamilton shared the bulk of the singing, with Joe Russo joining in for excellent harmonies all night long.
Russo acknowledged the delayed show by saying, “Thank you all for coming out; it’s been a minute.” The band went on a super jam that included “Estimated Prophet” and “Lost Sailor.” Metzger, Hamilton, and Marco Benevento took creative, extended solos while seamlessly transitioning into a tease of the Allman Brothers’ “Jessica” before emerging back to “Estimated Prophet.” That “Jessica” tease in Set One was revisited more than an hour later near the end of Set Two.
Another curious, unexpected, but effective diversion developed as the band segued from a super, increasingly up-tempo version of “Crazy Fingers.” That fast jam changed into the intense, thumping midsection of Pink Floyd’s “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” as Metzger’s lead guitar work was wickedly explosive. Then the band slowed down the pace with Hamilton doing a twangy vocal rendition and hypnotic guitar solo for “He’s Gone.”
Before they went back to the Allman Brothers, JRAD opened Set Two with a surprising and beautifully explored “Romeo and Juliet,” originally by Dire Straits. Hamilton did a sultry, slow, and glorious Mark Knopfler impression, both vocally and on guitar.
The band also did a remarkable job on the blues classic “It Hurts Me Too” as Metzger sang lead and played a stirring guitar solo. Benevento accompanied him with a soulful organ solo as well. “Feel Like a Stranger” featured some incredible jamming and synchronized lead guitar work by Metzger and Hamilton. “Cats Under the Stars” allowed for another wild jam sequence as Metzger, Hamilton and Benevento all played complementary, melodic sequences that once again flawlessly segued back to the Allman’s “Jessica.”
This time the band did a full workout of “Jessica,” with dueling guitars and a gorgeous Benevento piano solo. The jam continued until the spent band and audience wrapped up the show. The guys came back out for a final song as Russo pounded out a powerful drum intro before the band launched into “Samson and Delilah.” Hamilton did a fine job on lead vocals and he, Metzger, and Benevento all took extended solos before closing out the song and show.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead took the audience on a wonderful roller coaster – songs that began slowly, climbing up the hill, culminating with rapid, melodic jams as the band reached the top and sped down the hill before climbing back up once again. It was a joyful ride.
Live photos courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©2021.