Joe Russo’s Almost Dead Keep the Spirit of the Dead Alive and Well in Chicago

Photos and Review by Stephen Bloch

There’s no such thing as a bad evening of Grateful Dead music, period.  This is particularly true when the band that is reinterpreting their music is none other than Joe Russo’s Almost Dead.  On Friday evening, Chicago’s Rivera Theater played host to JRAD for the first of three sold out shows.  Fans were wrapped around the block to get their SPACE long before the band hit the stage and it’s clear that Grateful Dead music is alive and well with fans that probably ranged from 17 to well into their 70s. Most came prepared, but of course, there were miracles being sought after.  

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead is so much more than a Dead cover band.  They don’t try to recreate the Dead sound or experience.  They reinterpret the classics, both in terms of set placement and vibe, often leaning towards the jazzier and funkier side of things, anchored by keyboardist Marco Benevento’s jangly keys and Russo’s otherworldly drumming. Many of the Dead’s jams come as one-two punches like peanut butter and jelly, eggs and bacon, or coffee and doughnuts.  Not for these cats.  On this night, “Scarlet Begonias” ended in the middle of the first set, while its companion, “Fire on the Mountain” landed in the middle of the second.  They know how to keep fans on their toes. What’s an “Estimated Prophet” without Eyes?  “Eyes of the World” didn’t happen the next night.  Of course, a set closer of “Terrapin Station” is something that the Dead never dropped in, but that’s what we got.

The music of the Grateful Dead is alive and well.  While Dead and Company are rapidly approaching their last tour, the proverbial torch is being passed on to very able musicians.  JRAD may very well be the most able carrier. 

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