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Published: 2014/10/26
by Nicholas Stock

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Boulder Theater, Boulder, CO- 10/11

Joe Russo and Marco Benevento are a foundation on which you can build any band. Toss in the massive tome that is the Grateful Dead songbook and you have a world of limitless musical possibilities. The Duo brought along an unbelievable cast of characters including Scott Metzger, Tommy Hamilton both on guitar and vocals, and Dave Dreiwitz on bass. Joe Russo’s Almost Dead is a congregation of talent embracing and fostering the Dead for the next generation. Russo’s inclusion in Furthur has certainly earned him a place in the hearts of Deadheads everywhere. He is known as an absolute monster on the kit with powerfully accurate chops. The first few setlists that have bubbled up on the Internet point to a predilection for early Dead tunes ranging from the first recordings to the mid 70’s. The show at The Boulder Theater was their seventh performance as a band. In the hours just prior to doors opening it was announced that the show was sold out. When I arrived I saw more than a few friends looking for that elusive extra. I made my way up front and just before 9:30 PM they opened with a sublime “Golden Road.”

Set 1: The Golden Road, Crazy Fingers-> Mr. Charlie, He’s Gone*-> Loser-> Sugaree> Viola Lee Blues

Set 2: Alligator-> Eyes Of The World-> King Solomon’s Marbles, Space-> Dark Star (1st Verse)**> Scarlet Begonias-> Fire On the Mountain-> ?Dark Star? Jam-> Fire On The Mountain

Encore: Ripple

*Slipknot! Tease **The Eleven Teases

Now on paper everything looks fairly on the up and up, but that’s just what Joe Russo wants you to believe. What actually occurred was a concert more along the lines of Jazz Is Dead meets Rush who were both assaulted by The Weather Report on the way through the parking lot. Russo and company wove rich textures of music rife with teases and trickery. One moment you’re thinking possibly “Shakedown” before they make a one eighty and go all “Dark Star” on you. Stylistically their approach could not have been smoother. This performance literally pulsed with the energy that the Grateful Dead and its survivors have spent the better part of a century cultivating. “Crazy Fingers” took on a spacy frenetic tone before it materialized into a harmonious spiritual with Marco driving the bus. Tommy Hamilton would sing the majority of the songs played during the two sets. Vocally his tone just fits with that of Jerry Garcia. He shares a subtlety and tenderness with Garcia that seemed to resonate through every song he sang. Suddenly the fans were awash in the purple glow of the stage lights as the band took a right turn into “Mr. Charlie.” These boys were taking us on a ride. As they finished the sound of the amplifier hum kicked on and were immediately enjoying “He’s Gone.” It became a fan-fueled sing-along before Metzger went all space on the guitar. The band blasted off on a “Slipknot!” tirade that could have went the distance, but they pulled the emergency brakes and opted for a sensible “Loser” this time with Metzger on the microphone. The segues were enough to give a person whiplash and the tightness of this band cannot be overstated. After a spot on “Sugaree” they went into a harmonious slam dance rendition of “Viola Lee Blues.” Elements of funk and jazz infused jams dribbled in and out of the song before it came to a close.

The set break was only about 25 minutes but eager fans packed the floor in anticipation for round two. The lights dimmed and the group returned with a classic “Alligator.” Obviously, the first set was punchy and full of fan favorites from the early years. The second set was much more about improvisation and the musical interplay of the extended jam. The “Eyes Of The World” was a huge highlight and stretched to almost 18 minutes long setting the tone for the rest of the show. “King Solomon’s Marbles” was perfect, and it took us all down the rabbit hole. The band built a darkly intricate “Space” that had some wondering if they were working on an inverted “Drums” into “Space.” Alas this was not the case and the band forged ahead with “Dark Star.” It seemed to me that they had been teasing this one most of the night, but they stopped at one verse and detoured into a bouncy “Scarlet Begonias.” Again showing their deviousness and possibly causing neck strain in the process they went into a celebratory “Fire On The Mountain.” Somewhere along the way through they went back into a “Dark Star” inspired jam before bringing it all back full circle to close. They returned for an almost spiritual version of “Ripple.” Fans poured out of the theater and onto the streets of Boulder all smiles. Many went to this show slightly unsure of what to expect and left with a new favorite band. The Grateful Dead will always be the spring from which the entire scene flows. That’s our history, as the remaining members of the Dead age it’s important to keep their traditions alive for the next batch of music fans. Joe Russo’s Almost Dead does that in a vibrant, artistic way that truly does the music justice.

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