Words and Photos by Nicholas Stock
Audio Recorded by Ryan Stearns
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead returned for their second headlining show at the famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre. In the week or so prior to the show the internet was abuzz with people discussing the validity of JRAD and whether or not they were on par with Dead and Co. and various other Grateful Dead inspired projects. While some purists recoil from the energetic output of JRAD many emphatically declared Joe Russo and Company to be the best in this category. The fact remains that at the heart of all of this is the songbook of the Dead. Since the passing of Jerry Garcia in 1995 fans have searched far and wide to find the music that fueled their lives prior to his passing. We’ll take it where we can find it, whether it’s Dark Star Orchestra, JRAD, Wolf Bros, Phil and Friends, The Terrapin Family Band or any other of the myriad of local Dead cover outfits. Our connection to this music supersedes all boundaries. So I say drink up; the music of the Good Ol’ Grateful Dead is alive and well and drifting out your local barroom doors on a nightly basis.
As fans poured into the venue streaming in from all parts of the the Front Range and beyond, many learned of the cancellation of Phish’s Curveball Festival due to severe flooding in the region resulting in tainted water. Many including myself had friends out on the East Coast for the festival so it was definitely a topic for discussion throughout the evening. With no openers the show felt less rushed than others at Red Rocks this year. The voice of Aretha Franklin floated from the PAs as we entered, a sound guy’s nod to a fallen hero. A light drizzle fell over the crowd as the show was just about to start. The band took the stage around 7:40 PM to a jubilant welcome from the audience. After an eloquent but short jam led by Mr. Benevento on the keys the band exploded into a triumphant “Playing In The Band.”
Set 1: Jam > Playing In The Band > Bird Song > Eyes Of The World* > Black-Throated Wind > Jack Straw Reprise > Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo > The Other One
Set 2: The Other One Jam > I Need A Miracle > Estimated Prophet > St. Stephen, Help On The Way > Slipknot!** > The Bends > Not Fade Away
Encore: Marco Benevento Piano Solo > Werewolves Of London, Franklin’s Tower
*Playing in the Band Reprise tease
**Wilson (Phish) teases and crowd chant during Slipknot!
While this setlist is totally adequate I’d invite you to check out Peter Costello’s Box Scores for the full picture. (https://www.facebook.com/JRAlmostDead/)
JRAD is a high energy flow of consciousness that takes the listener through an entire world of Grateful Dead music and beyond. They offer soaring and high energy interpretations of everything GD. The first set was absolutely huge featuring an inspired “Bird Song” with an Aretha Franklin tease to wrap it all up. The “Eyes of The World” stretched over the 20 minute mark with references to “Playing In The Band.” A JRAD set is like an interwoven tapestry of sound, everything can be referred to at any time and nothing is off the table. “Black-Throated Wind” was an eloquent and tight version before the band exploded into the refrain of “Jack Straw.” “Mississippi Half-Step” was a breather before the barn burning “Other One” set closer.
The venue as nearly full with over 8000 in attendance. Fans locked in for the second set as the boys returned to the stage and to a tight riff right where they left off with “The Other One.” They reached liftoff with a rocking rendition of “I Need A Miracle.” “Estimated Prophet” was fairly straight forward, but the “St. Stephen” was off the hook with a massive Zeppelin jam featuring the incredible talents of Benevento and Dreiwitz. The “Help On The Way” featured Tommy Hamilton on vocals as well as his serious skills on guitar. The band started in on “Slipnot!” but the crowd had other ideas. As if on cue the standard progression broke down as the telltale chords of Phish’s “Wilson” punctuated from the stage. The fans didn’t miss a beat chiming in with the chant right on time. It was a poignant nod for those affected by the cancellation of Curveball from 1600 miles away. JRAD surprised us all with a stellar version of Radiohead’s “The Bends” as a spacey interlude prior to the set closing “Not Fade Away.”
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead returned to the stage giving room to Benevento for a beautiful solo at the baby grand. This jam suddenly transformed into an incredible version of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves Of London.” As a friend said “…this was an obvious nod to the famous 7/8/78 show.” They wrapped it all up with a perfect “Franklin’s Tower.” This was an unbelievably good show on all levels. This band takes this material very seriously and it shows during every performance. Their show at Red Rocks paid respect to fallen heroes as well as stranded friends. This scene is pretty small so what happens to one affects us all. While our minds were with Aretha and Curveball our bodies were getting down to the music of the Grateful Dead. Joe Russo and his bandmates have carried the torch and continue to share this music far and wide. JRAD is just one more Dead cover band on the bill, but if you go see them live you’ll know they are so much more than that.