Joe Russo’s Almost Dead kicked off their 2020 touring schedule with a three-night sold out run at Port Chester, NY’s The Capitol Theatre from February 21-23. The band instantly picked up where they left off in 2019, as the energy the quintet created every night was palpable. While the focus of the weekend was on the band’s continued musical growth, what the weekend really proved was they are expanding their base, and the fans have no problem with it.
Off the bat, the band dusted off “Born Cross Eyed,” a song that hadn’t seen the light in over four years. That was just the beginning. Radiohead’s “Killer Cars” also emerged from a four-year hiatus to end the first set. The second set featured the band moving from “New Speedway Boogie” into the debut of the Scott Metzger-led “Smokestack Lightning.”
A perfect example of the growing JRAD family saw newly engaged Metzger come out prior to the encore to spend a few minutes telling the tale of how he fell in love with violinist and JRAD collaborator Katie Jacoby. Jacoby joined her fiancée and the rest of the band for “Lonesome Whistle Blues.”
The second night was more of the same, kicking off with “Sitting on Top of the World,” which hadn’t been played in 110 shows. The Band’s “Life Is A Carnival” also made an appearance after 119 shows. Metzger forcefully led the band through the band’s first “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.” Much to the crowd’s delight, bassist Dave Dreiwitz, “the world’s nicest guy,” stepped up to the mic for the debut of Robbie Robertson’s “Broken Arrow.”
Again, the band produced some top notch performances in night two, especially “Jack Straw” and “Cats Under the Stars.” But, night two was all about the band’s take on “Cumberland Blues.” The 20+ minute voyage had the crowd clamoring that it was one of, if not the best version played live. At one point, Russo jumped up from his drum kit with a tambourine and headed over to join Marco Benevento at the piano for a unique “duo jam.”
Sunday night’s finale was the 20th show JRAD has played at The Cap. The band opened the night with another debut, Jerry Garcia’s “Catfish John.” The band mixed things up again to start second set with Dire Strait’s “Romeo and Juliet,” followed by Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train.”
Once again, there was a clear cut winner for memorable moment of the night as Jimmy Fallon and Chris Harford joined the band on stage for the encore, Neil Young’s “Fuckin’ Up.” Fallon managed to cover several other artists, weaving between Bruce Springsteen, The Doors, Paul Simon, or whatever song came in his head next.
Adding songs covered by the Grateful Dead (“Smokestack Lightning,” “Memphis Blues,” “Broken Arrow”), was a wise move for the band. It allowed them to expand their catalog while staying true to the “Almost Dead” moniker. The positive response from the non-Dead additions should be reaffirmation for the band that their fans are up for anything, as long as it creates the magic and energy they’re used to.
The music isn’t the only thing expanding for the band. Sellouts are becoming the norm, and at some point they are going to need to move to bigger venues. This is more proof the band is establishing deep roots as it looks to the future.
JRAD picks things up again in March with a Midwest run. Given the positive reaction from their first few shows, it will be interesting to see what the band pulls out of their bag of tricks next.
Set I: Shakedown Street, Truckin, Born Cross Eyed, Candyman, Around and Around, Foolish Heart, Killer Cars
Set II: Cosmic Charlie, New Speedway Boogie, Smokestack Lightning, He’s Gone, The Other One, Stella Blue, Playing In the Band
Encore: Lonesome Whistle Blues
Set I: Sitting On Top of the World, Hell in a Bucket, Loser, The Wheel, Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues again, Uncle John’s Band
Set II: Estimated Prophet, Jack Straw, Life Is A Carnival, Cats Under the Stars, Cumberland Blues, Sugar Magnolia
Encore: Broken Arrow
Set I: Catfish John, Bertha, Music Never Stopped, El Paso, I Need A Miracle, Stella Blue
Set II: Romeo and Juliet, Mystery Train, Help on the Way, Slipknot, So Many Roads, Not Fade Away, Let It Grow
Encore: Fuckin Up