Joe Russo’s Almost Dead Close Out Freaks Ball XIII
The music of the Grateful Dead may be the closest thing in rock and roll to the classical canon, destined to be played and re-imagined for many years after its original composers return to the ether. On Saturday night, Joe Russo enlisted the help of some friends to run through the Dead songbook and gave a packed Brooklyn Bowl a glimpse into the future of live Dead music. Though the core of the group has been performing Led Zeppelin together for several years (including the night prior), this marked their first (and hopefully not last) foray into the expansive oeuvre of the Grateful Dead.
Local indie Amerciana revivalists The Yellowbirds opened the night with a jangly take on the blander aspects of the genre, highlighted by a paean to the gentrification of nearby Greenpoint entitled “Pulaski Bridge.” But that’s not what the sell out crowd came to see.
The main act soon took the stage to raucous fanfare and kicked right into it with a rollicking take on the standard show-opening rocker “Bertha.” Right from the get go, it was clear that this quintet would be operating in a higher gear than the comparatively geriatric Furthur. Though admittedly not familiar with the Dead when tapped by Phil and Bobby’s newest endeavor, Joe Russo has clearly developed an affinity for the music and yearns to take it to new uptempo stratospheres.
After a uniquely jammed out version of the latter day Dead favorite “Althea,” the group settled into a well rehearsed, expertly rendered set of the classics infused with fresh vigor. Tom Hamilton did the majority of the singing early on, infusing familiar tunes like “Shakedown Street” with emotional angst oft found in Brothers Past balladry. It was clear that this group put a lot of effort into both song selection and fine tuning. They tackled the sometimes difficult songs with the exuberance of a backyard jamboree, often grinning ear-to-ear at each other.
Hamilton and Scott Metzger traded blistering guitar lines all night, and Metzger echoed Bob Weir’s earnest vocals especially well in the second set opener “Estimated Prophet.” Dave Dreiwitz, Russo’s spirit guide, admirably took on the unenviable task of imitating Phil Lesh. While he may not have dropped any bombs of a Leshian magnitude, he ably laid the backbone for the evenings instrumental excursions, just a night after recreating the lines of another low end titan. Marco Benevento occupied the so-called hot seat, tracing a course from Godchaux to Mydland and into territory unknown.
The second set continued with a spacey “Eyes of the World” into the jazzy “King Solomon’s Marbles” followed by the classic “Help > Slip > Frank.” The set concluded with the monstrous acid blues mindfuck psychedelia segment of “St. Stephen > The Eleven > The Other One > Viola Lee Blues.” It just doesn’t get much better than that. Had they gone into “Dark Star,” the Brooklyn Bowl may have lifted off. The night concluded close to 2AM with the relatively staid “U.S. Blues” and the near universal desire for one more Saturday night.
Bertha, Althea, Jack Straw > Deal > Mr Charlie, Brown Eyed Women > Tennessee Jed > Shakedown Street, China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider
Estimated Prophet > Eyes Of The World > King Solomon’s Marbles > Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower, St Stephen > The Eleven > The Other One > Viola Lee Blues
You can listen to the show HERE.