This past cold, Friday night, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead returned to Albany’s Palace Theatre for its seemingly annual performance at the venue. The show sold out months in advance and the theatre filled quickly as Grateful Dead fans across the northeast flocked to New York’s capital for a tribute to their favorite live act.
To open up the first set, the group started into a jam that slowly but surely built itself into “Cassidy.” During the intro jam, guitarist Tom Hamilton made good use of his recently acquired De Pinto guitar, manipulating its onboard overdrive effect and an octave pedal, creating a sort of fuzzy overtone, and bassist Dave Dreiwitz took the helm for a bit before the group finally dropped into the main composition. The group jammed in and out of the verses and choruses of the song before leading it into a very spacey jam that employed the use of patience as the group started into the traditional tune “Jack a Roe.” Keyboardist Marco Benevento teased the theme to Pink Panther heavily during the intro jam, adding a mysterious vibe to the music as the group worked its way into the main composition. After weaving in and out of the lyrics of “Jack a Roe,” the group wasted no time transitioning into “Box of Rain,” dropping into the Phil Lesh staple with nearly the entire audience singing along with its somber lyrics. At some point amidst the segue from “Jack a Roe” into “Box of Rain,” Hamilton broke one of his guitar’s strings and was forced to change it mid-transition to “The Other One” which led to an interesting musical conversation between Benevento and guitarist Scott Metzger.
The intro to “The Other One” was super spacious and ambient and primal feeling, and once Hamilton gave the “all clear” on his string, the group worked as a unit to build up an interesting jazzy groove, keeping that groove going under the first verse before a breathtaking drop into the chorus. Following the chorus, the group got back into the jazzy insanity that was happening during the intro, until drummer Joe Russo quickly brought the groove into “Drums,” keeping the general feeling of “The Other One” going, but adding some really impressive polyrhythms over the top of it. “Drums” was short-lived as Russo signaled to Benevento to start playing, leading to a rare Benevento/Russo reunion in the middle of the jam. The duo did their thing and quickly brought the jam back into “The Other One,” bringing the band back in for a drop into another verse/chorus just as intense and astounding as the initial drop that began the song. “The Other One” ended fairly abruptly, and the group drop-segued into the Dead’s disco classic “Shakedown Street,” much to the approval of the crowd. This version of “Shakedown” had a swagger to it, with Russo putting a bit of a swing to the groove and the rest of the band putting a little more oomph into the funk aspect of the tune. The jam following leading out of Shakedown took all the energy the band had built up during first set and transformed it into one glorious peak led by the whole band to close out the set.
To kick off the second set, the group started into Bob Weir’s “Black Throated Wind,” a slower tune that was somewhat of a rarity in the Dead’s concert repertoire for the better part of their career. The group played through the song’s many verses with a rather somber feeling as Metzger belted out the lyrics and brought the song into a very rewarding peak that acted as a burst of the emotional energy the song had built. Suddenly, the jam dropped into the familiar chord progression of “Bertha,” only to be jammed on for a brief minute before faking out the crowd and dropping into the whimsical “Dupree’s Diamond Blues.” Hamilton lead the group through a fairly standard version of the song and closed it out with a soaring solo that began the transition into “Playin’ in the Band.” The intro jam was very patient and spacey, featuring Benevento experimenting on his Rhodes piano a bit before the group steadily rose the groove into the main tempo of “Playin’,” extending the intro of the song before Metzger broke into the lyrics. The jam immediately got spacey and dissonant with Hamilton and Benevento heavily making use of their delay pedals before Russo started bringing the “Playin’” groove back into his drumming. The group worked its way into a mini peak before dropping into one last round of choruses to finish out the song and begin the transition into “So Many Roads,” the first and only repeat from last year’s Palace show.
Benevento swiveled over to his Hammond organ to lead the band into the emotional Robert Hunter-penned tale, and Hamilton jumped back on the vocals, delivering an impressive performance of the song’s heartfelt lyrics. Following another big emotional peak, the group brought the song into a laidback reggae-ish groove that acted as the launching off point for the live staple “Estimated Prophet,” but not before heavily teasing the opening chord melody of “Crazy Fingers.” “Estimated” brought the energy up immensely after the emotional ride of “So Many Roads” and Metzger really tapped into his grittier side of his voice for the verses, which added a really cool element to the sound of this version. The jam sort of teetered its way around another spacey groove before dropping into the energetic “St. Stephen” which made the crowd roar. The group ripped through most of the lyrics and started building a super uptempo groove that burst back into “Bertha,” resolving the fakeout from the beginning of the set and leaving “St. Stephen” unfinished. “Bertha” was very fast paced, continuing the energy from “St. Stephen” and amidst the jam on the song’s main progression, the band’s tech replaced Russo’s snare drum, much to the amusement of Hamilton and Russo. Before the famous “test me, test me” section, the group got super quiet and let the tension build up before finally hitting on the chord when Hamilton sang the lyric out. The group closed out the set after one last chorus before leaving for encore break.
Before the band came out for the encore, Benevento walked onstage and sat down at his grand piano to take a solo that eventually worked its way to the main melody of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London.” The full band walked out as he started into the chord progression and he took the lead on vocals for the only time that night for a very spirited version of the famous Dead cover.
Joe Russo’s Almost Dead delivered yet another stellar performance at the palace theatre, filled with some really impressive versions of Grateful Dead classics, namely “The Other One” and “So Many Roads.” Hopefully the group continues this tradition and returns to the venue in March of 2020. Check out the photo gallery below for a taste of the evening.
Set One: Cassidy > Jack A Roe! > Box Of Rain+ > The Other One -> Drums -> The Other One Reprise @ > Shakedown St #
Set Two: Jam -> Black Throated Wind -> Bertha Jam ## -> Dupree’s Diamond Blues $-> Playing In The Band -> So Many Roads % -> Estimated Prophet > St Stephen ^ -> Bertha &
Encore: Marco Solo -> Werewolves Of London *
! – Not Played by Almost Dead Since 2018-02-15 War Memorial Auditorium, Nashville, TN, a gap of 43 shows
+ – Not Played by Almost Dead Since 2018-02-17 The Pageant, St Louis, MO, a gap of 42 shows
@ – With a Duo Jam, first Almost Dead version of “Other One Reprise”
# – With a “Love Supreme” (John Coletrane) Tease (TH) and a Jam that included elements of “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” (Michael Jackson) and “Serpintine Fire” (Earth Wind & Fire)
## – First Time Played in this manner by Almost Dead
$ – Not Played by Almost Dead Since 2018–03-08 Brooklyn Bowl, Brooklyn, NY, a gap of 39 shows
% – With a “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” (Bob Dylan) Tease (TH) Tommy actually quoted the Guns N Roses version. Not Played by Almost Dead Since 2018-03-16 The Palace Theatre, a gap of 35 shows Albany, NY
^ – Unfinished
& – With a “Reveille” (Traditional) Tease (SM) and a “Rock And Roll” (Led Zeppelin) Tease (JR)
* – With a “Sweet Home Alabama” (Lynyrd Skynyrd) Tease (MB)