Tuesday, August 8, 2023

Live Review: Joe Russo's Almost Dead - Pier 17 NYC 7/27/23

Joe Russo's Almost Dead
Pier 17 NYC 7/27/23

The weather was stifling hot, NYC was in the midst of summer heat wave on Thursday night July 27th as Joe Russo's Almost Dead played a hometown show on the rooftop of Pier 17. Arriving as the sun was setting, but the heat was still sticking around, band leader Joe Russo commented that we all should drink a lot of water, because it was going to be a hot one. 

He was correct on a few levels as the band, Russo on drums, bassist Dave Dreiwitz, keyboardist Marco Benevento, Scott Metzger and Tom Hamilton on guitar and vocals, came out on fire to begin the night of music. For those unfamiliar with JRAD, the group plays mostly Grateful Dead music in varying arraignments, with great energy and passion.

They opened this night in mid-set form with a wandering jam that quickly took on the attributes of "Playin' In The Band" as the group applied this framework and ran with it. After the vocals of the song, the musicians spaced out with jazz vibes even more, before a large crescendo and a nice exit into a barroom like version of "Mississippi Half-Step" easily floated along in soothing fashion. 

The group displayed some inspiring musical transitions throughout the evening and none was more impressive than their switch from "Mississippi Half-Step" into "The Music Never Stopped". Hamilton and Metzger climbed scales and Russo followed with pounding drums as "The Music Never Stopped" exploded, pumping forward before a mid-song spacey break and another huge build; a highlight version all around. 

The group kept the swirling sweaty cauldron of tunes moving, as Russo kept the pace banging for an upbeat "Bertha" that found Benevento doing work on the baby grand. The band finally took a breather after delivering an opening forty five minutes of straight goodness. It was brief though as a deep Bob Dylan cut, "Tell Me, Momma", pushed out dueling, scratchy guitar work in roadhouse blues manner. The dynamite first set wrapped up with the unique pairing of "Scarlett Begonias > Touch of Grey" which featured another excellent transition from the group and high energy all around.   

The second set was not as fiery as the first, the heat seemed to have zapped the band. The crowd also was certainly drained as the night air brought no relief from the heat while the packed in, sold-out crowd, left little space for air to flow. 

That said, JRAD still gave it a go, opening with the blues of "Hard To Handle" which never truly took off. Better was the laid back fluidity of "Here Comes Sunshine" which was mellow before kicking up the energy half way through and moving into the focal point of the set, a huge "Throwing Stones". Russo set the tone with heavy drumming as the band shifted and soared through various jams, prog like and pulsing at times, all out rocking at others; the song was a beast feeling influenced by The Who's "Eminence Front" at times, filtered through a Phish lens.   

Both the flowing "Wharf Rat" and game "Truckin'" (complete with all out ending) were noble efforts but things seemed a bit wandering with the heat and humidity still present. However, business picked up again for "St. Stephen" as everyone was energized around the massive bass work from Dreiwitz. The fan favorite got speedy, spacey, and gnarly throughout the excellent version that contained a bluesy jam, all lead by the ferocious drumming of the bands leader. 

JRAD then got it's trippiest as they slowly rolled out their take on Pink Floyd's "Shine On You Crazy Diamonds" with guest Stuart Bogie joining and dominating the song on saxophone as the music was fluid and soaring. More was planned, but mere seconds into "Not Fade Away" the venue abruptly ended the show because there was dangerous lightning and storms in the area as Pier 17 was quickly cleared as fans left via emergency staircases. 

While some may have been disappointed at the quick wrap up, nothing can take away from the dynamic interpretations of JRAD as they manage to up the ante on the Dead's classic catalog, allowing new generations and old Heads to enjoy reworkings of their favorite tunes. Pier 17's show was just another excellent outing in this exciting bands lifespan. 
Support the band, catch them live, check out the full show on archive and peep some video below (music starts about 9 minutes in). 

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