Joe Russo’s Almost Dead has made a habit out of delivering spectacular late-night runs in New Orleans during Jazz Fest, and last night’s show at The Fillmore was a stellar start to what is likely too be another excellent installment. With non-stop full or nearly full sets planned and the entire catalog of Grateful Dead classics open to the five incredibly talented improvisational players in such an inspirational setting, this New Orleans run has to be one of the most enticing weekends on the band’s 10th anniversary schedule. Better still, the band has partnered up with the anti-hunger charity Second Harvest to make the whole weekend not just a party, but a party with a promise of love at its core.
After a percolating jam that saw the quintet checking their tunings and getting their bearings, the band quickly formed up and launched into “Estimated Prophet”, and like that the 2023 run was underway! It was hard to tell who was happier, the cheering fans or the clearly peppy and cheerful Marco Benevento, who attacked the “Prophet” with the same enthusiasm he does everything, but whichever the case, the love was in the air. When guitar maven and vocalist Tom Hamilton led an intricate, lick-heavy transition into “Eyes Of The World”, drummer and master of ceremonies Joe Russo sat Buddha-like as he wisely directed the proceedings from the middle of the stage.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – “Jam” > “Estimated Prophet”> “Eyes Of the World” – 5/4/23
Bassist Dave Dreiwitz (Ween) wasn’t letting the rest of the band have all the fun as he dutifully dropped bass bomb after bass bomb, devastating the pocket and more than a few fans’ mental capacities as he went. After a vintage Benevento-Russo trade off jam gave way to the Martha and the Vandellas-penned “Dancing In The Streets”, the crowd was more than pleased to cheer the New Orleans name check in the lyrics and celebrate their surroundings as well as the magic musicianship on display. Russo, Hamilton, and guitarist Scott Metzger shared vocal duties as the entire venue cheerfully shared the invitation to boogie down on the packed floor of The Fillmore.
Hamilton took the second, outro guitar section, building to an intense crescendo before the entire song structure seemed to collapse around him as he stood there wailing defiantly. Slowly returning to life and rebuilding, it became apparent that Ham and company were building into what was to be their set-closing tune, a spot on “Playing In The Band”. After an at times meandering but never directionless take on the track, the whole thing came to a close as devout fans sent Joe Russo and company into set break with heartfelt cheers and applause.
Returning to the stage with a Working Man’s Dead classic, “Easy Wind”, Metzger took and nailed the lead vocals while he and Hamilton showed just how unconscious they have become as an onstage guitar duo. It’s almost uncanny how completely complementary the two can be. Trading off lead and rhythm duties with careless ease, it’s a joy to watch Metzger and Hamilton in action. As “Wind” wound down, it got almost tranquil thanks to the church-like effects from Benevento’s variety of keyboard tactics, before the murmuring crowd erupted in delight at the “Franklin’s Tower” that was being constructed before their eyes and ears.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead has made a habit out of delivering spectacular late-night runs in New Orleans during Jazz Fest, and last night’s show at The Fillmore was a stellar start to what is likely too be another excellent installment
After fully embracing one of the Dead’s most beloved singalongs, the crowd seemed quite appreciative to have a bit of a break in the form of the much more mellow followup, a jammy and explorative “Black Throated Wind”. That said, as the transition from the second “Wind” clearly started to shape up into “I Know You Rider”, the sheer anticipation of the coming crescendos, grooves, and chances for crowd participation seemed to hit the audience like a cool breeze on a hot day. More than once Joe Russo’s Almost Dead demonstrated why they’re practically the gold standard in Dead cover projects as they deftly zigged when the OG band would have zagged, to impressive effect. Joe Russo and Co aren’t afraid to go their own way with the material, and their set-closing, minimalist version of “Morning Dew” showcased their comfort and confidence perfectly.
After a perfunctory “walk off stage to give the crowd the chance to pretend it was desperately up to them to show enough appreciation to cajole the band back out” ritual, Marco Benevento retook the stage for a spotlight piano jam that evolved into a rousing, evening-closing “Samson & Delilah”. Russo took the mic, thanked the audience, and promised them that this was only the beginning of the love they had in store for their delighted fans over the weekend. If this was truly just the tip of the iceberg, it looks like the city of New Orleans might just sink, Titanic-like, under the full weight of these immensely talented compatriots and their amazing ability to transform already classic tracks into newer, just as vital versions of these staples of music history!
View the full setlist from Joe Russo’s Almost Dead’s first night at The Fillmore in New Orleans below. The band returns to the same venue tonight and tomorrow. For a full list of tour dates and ticketing details, visit the band’s website.
Setlist: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead | The Fillmore | New Orleans, LA | 5/4/23
Set 1: Jam > Estimated Prophet > Eyes Of the World > Dancing In The Streets > Playing In The Band
Set 2: Easy Wind > Franklin’s Tower > Black Throated Wind > Jack Straw > Peggy-O > I Know You Rider > Morning Dew
Encore: Samson & Delilah