Joe Russo's Almost Dead feat. Oteil Burbridge 8.31.17

Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Morrison, CO

Words by Mitch Melheim
Photos by Doug Fondriest Photography

After their initial Red Rocks debut was derailed due to inclement weather and moved indoors to Broomfield’s 1stBank Center, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead (JRAD) was invited back for an end-of-summer date that conveniently kicked off “day zero” of Phish’s annual run at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City.

The show sold out well ahead of time, thanks to hoards of Phish fans flocking to the front range for the weekend, and by Thursday afternoon, tickets were becoming just as hard to get for JRAD as they were for Dick’s. “Miracle fingers” and cardboard signs lined the air as we made our way into the Red Rocks parking lot.

Dead & Company bassist Oteil Burbridge was slated to play the set with JRAD due to Dave Dreiwitz’s prior obligations with Ween. The opportunity to see Burbridge play Dead songs with a band that’s, well, I’ll just say it; better than Dead & Company, was exciting and only added to the feeling that this would be a special night.

Allowing folks time to find a seat after long lines delayed many, the band opened the night with some mellow improv before building into an intense peak and crashing into the nearly twenty minute “Here Comes Sunshine” which was dominated by the brilliance of Marco Benevento on keys.

The first set alone lasted nearly two hours and featured the type of setlist games we’re more accustomed to seeing from the Disco Biscuits than a Grateful Dead tribute act. One particular segment, “New Speedway Boogie” > “The Music Never Stopped” (Reprise) > “New Speedway Boogie” Jam > “The Music Never Stopped” Jam > “Dancing in the Streets” > “New Speedway Boogie” (Reprise) impressed me the most, proving that not only is it perfectly acceptable to reprise a song that you haven’t played yet, you don’t even have to play the actual song at all, opting instead for a funky jam based on “The Music Never Stopped” chord progression.

The second set brought upon more experimentation and several great segues, opening with “Jack Straw” and not stopping until the end of “I Know You Rider,” nearly ninety minutes later. “Feel Like a Stranger” faded into a spacey jam and eventually a short, instrumental cover/tease of “Harry Hood” which opened up the floodgates that would eventually bring us “Bathtub Gin” and “Stash” teases as well. The influence of Phish (somewhat ironically) was felt strongly throughout the whole night, both in the crowd and on the stage.

The thing that I love most about JRAD is their ability to take some of the most oft-played music in the modern world and completely make it their own, offering new twists and turns along the way. A great example of this was during the second set when they played “China Cat Sunflower” and instead of following it up with the expected segue into “I Know You Rider,” they stuffed “The Eleven,” “The Wheel,” and “There is a Mountain” (Donovan’s tune that became the basis of the Allman Brothers’ “Mountain Jam”) into the middle of The Dead’s most commonly paired duo.

The band closed the second set with “Morning Dew,” which will go down as one of my favorite Red Rocks memories. It was so quiet you could hear a hash pen drop and then all of a sudden, it began pouring rain almost perfectly in sync with the intensity of the song. Afterwards, a fitting encore of “And We Bid You Goodnight,” sung acapella, sent us home feeling both nostalgic and inspired.

That, right there, is perhaps the most special thing about JRAD. They hold an obvious respect for the history of the music that when combined with their incessant need to push it beyond it’s boundaries creates a beast which cannot be tamed. One that appeals to everybody, young and old, progressive and traditional. There’s a reason that they’re able to sell out Red Rocks a week in advance as a tribute act. A fairly new tribute act, at that. Make no mistake though, this is more of a supergroup that plays Dead songs than your run of the mill “tribute act.”

Doug's Photo Gallery


Set One: Jam > Here Comes Sunshine > Reuben & Cherise > Jam > Mama Tried, New Speedway Boogie > The Music Never Stopped (Reprise) > New Speedway Boogie Jam > The Music Never Stopped Jam > Dancing In The Streets > New Speedway Boogie Reprise > Box of Rain, He’s Gone > Truckin’ > Born Cross Eyed Jam

Set Two: Jack Straw > Feel Like A Stranger > Harry Hood Jam > China Cat Sunflower > The Eleven > The Wheel > There Is A Mountain > I Know You Rider, Greatest Story Ever Told, Morning Dew

Encore: We Bid You Goodnight


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