I saw Joe Russo’s Almost Dead at The Ogden Theater in Denver last night, and it has recently been considered by some to be the greatest Grateful Dead cover band of all time. The band is cast with some very outstanding musicians, and it definitely brings a new energy and perspective to the much-loved tunes that have been played for years.
While JRAD tries to stick to traditional sound during each song, the jams and improvisations are incredibly unique and progressive. “It’s like a modern day ‘Space’,” I commented during one instrumental portion of the show when Russo held his drum sticks above his drum set, making it look like he was creating sound, even though it was coming from Marco Benevento on keys.
Tommy Hamilton simply shreds his role as lead guitarist, and I think his sound gives fans insight as to what Trey Anastasio might sound like when playing with The Dead this summer. Hamilton’s vocal cords don’t really resonate with those of the late Jerry Garcia, which is something I am accustomed to when seeing Dead cover bands. “It’s not about the vocals with this band,” said Chris, after I commented that both guitarists, Hamilton and Scott Metzger, read lyrics off their music stands, and of course he was right. So much talent rains out of this band, you can’t help but be blown away by their sound, and at least Metzger does a pretty good impersonation of Bob Weir on vocals.
The band’s namesake, Joe Russo, was front and center on drums, beating away all night, pouring all his energy into every song. He played so hard, in fact, that part of his drum kit disassembled during “Shakedown Street” toward the end of the first set. The band had to stop playing, and the house tried to cover for them by putting a “Shakedown Street” remix on over the speakers as the band walked off stage without appropriate or well-deserved applause from the audience. The band snuck back on stage after setbreak and picked up the Shakedown jam right where they left off, and Chris and I tried to regain our spots in the center of the first tier, but the crowd was too thick and we spent second set a little further back.
Stage left of Russo was bassist Dave Drewitz (from Ween), and he brought some awesome new licks and flavor to the classic songs. I can only imagine how awesome it would have been to have seen him play side by side with Phil Lesh this past New Year’s Eve in New York, because last night my face got rocked and my spirit refreshed from spending a few hours in the presence of such talented instrumentalists.
Just like when I saw JRAD in Denver this past October, after the show ended people raved about the band, saying they put on a better show than Furthur, or any current Dead cover/tribute band. While I do agree that Furthur does not have the same youthful energy as JRAD, I can’t say that JRAD is better. Nobody can be better than the original artist, that’s not the way the universe works. The cover band wouldn’t even be on tour if it weren’t for the OGs.
While leaving the venue last night a man behind me said, “Fuck The Dead’s 50th anniversary shows in Chicago, I’m going on JRAD tour,” and I thought to myself, “Good. Go on JRAD tour. You’ll be one less person to fight for tickets in Chicago, cause that’s gonna be that real deal Grateful Dead shit.”
I left the JRAD show feeling great. I was very happy to go out, see friends, dance my booty off and have my musical horizons expanded to a new level, but man, now all I can think about is how I need to see Phil Lesh in the flesh as soon as possible!