Photos by Ryan Swerdlin, Recap by Max Stewart
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead (JRAD) have continued their upward trajectory in popularity over the last few years, honoring the expansive catalog of the Grateful Dead while bringing energetic new life to all of their songs. Any fan of bands that stretch it out (aka ‘jam bands’) must hold the Dead in high regard. They forged a path for so many bands to allow individual and collective musicianship to shine live.
There are many, many Grateful Dead cover bands out there, and some are very good at replicating the sound of the band in their different eras. What JRAD does, however, is completely in its own category. They light a fuse under the Dead’s music, sending songs into many new sonic orbits.
The first key is that each musician in the band is elite; they clearly all have a deep musical chemistry after playing together for years. The centerpiece and namesake of the band, Joe Russo, is a master of the drums, anchoring and elevating every song. Marco Benevento (keys), Tom Hamilton (guitar, vocals), Dave Dreiwitz (bass), and Scott Metzger (guitar, vocals) all coexist perfectly, ebbing and flowing at opportune moments throughout the set.
Their first show of a three-night run at Atlanta’s The Eastern on Friday night included “China Cat Sunflower,” “Fire on the Mountain,” and a simmering version of “The Other One.” Saturday was marked with fantastic versions of “Terrapin Station” and “Cassidy” and they closed it all out with a Sunday set that included an Allman Brothers Band tune (“Hot ‘Lanta”) as well as “Slipknot!” and “Cumberland Blues.” The band can take any song the Dead played and add creative and unexpected sprinkles, and I think that is one of the reasons they are having so much success. Expect the unexpected at every turn.
Of all of the bands out there continuing to honor the Grateful Dead’s music, there is no doubt that JRAD should be at the top of your list to see live. These guys are building upon the rich history of the band, and hopefully keeping the elevated vibe on the road for many years to come.