Joe Russo’s Almost Dead – August 31st – Red Rocks Amphitheatre

JRAD 08-17-2337Photos by Tim Dwenger

The Scene: In stark contrast to the last time JRAD was supposed to play Red Rocks, the weather last Thursday as the show approached was a perfect late Summer Colorado day.  The lots were hopping early, and the show was very obviously the go-to pre-party for the annual “Phish Dicks” Labor Day celebration across town at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.  Phishheads and Deadheads rubbed shoulders as the amphitheater filled up well before the 7:30 start time printed on the tickets.  To say the energy and anticipation was high would be an understatement – the place was buzzing.

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead: Coming out the gates a touch slow with a jam that eventually evolved into the expected “Here Comes Sunshine” (expected due to the fact that the band had played “Shelter From the Storm” as their opener at the 1st Bank Center back in April after a late season snowstorm forced a last minute venue change), the band was finding their footing and falling into step with Oteil Burbridge (who was sitting in for Dave Dreiwitz who was in Minnesota with Ween) as they moved into the Jerry Garcia Band classic – and personal favorite of mine – “Ruben & Cherise.”  While I would have favored a later-in-the-set placement for this one, it’s hard to argue with Tom Hamilton laying into this gem from the Garcia catalog.  Scott Metzger got his chance to shine next on the Merle Haggard – by way of Bob Weir – cowboy tune “Mama Tried” and boy did he ever.  The whole amphitheater was singing along and I felt the set click into another gear as the band ratcheted things up a notch.  After a brief pause, the quintet launched into the undisputed highlight of the first set; a monster “New Speedway Boogie” that wove in and out of parts of “The Music Never Stopped” and included a blistering “Dancing In The Streets” before finally giving way to an Oteil sung take on the Phil Lesh favorite “Box Of Rain.”  It was the kind of musical odyssey that JRAD has become known for and the reason many of us crowded into Red Rocks to see them perform.

At this point we were 90 minutes into the show and while I was sure it was the end of the set, the band surprised me with a run from a mesmerizing version of “He’s Gone” into the relatively standard (if you can call anything this band does “standard”) “Truckin'” and then finally a roaring jam that flirted with “Born Cross Eyed” before finally letting us catch our collective breath with band introductions and a brief setbreak.

The band returned to the stage and launched into “Jack Straw” to get the second stanza started off on the right foot.  They then took us deep into 70’s Dead with a fiery “Feel Like a Stranger” that nodded to the undeniable Phish Dicks excitement that was permeating Colorado with a jam on “Harry Hood” that sent the crowd into a frenzy.  Building on the energy, JRAD tore into “China Cat Sunflower” and morphed it into “The Eleven” before blending the complex time signature into “The Wheel.”  While it probably threw many in the crowd for a loop, Metzger did a brilliant job keeping up as he delivered the opening verse of “The Wheel” in 11 and showed how incredibly versatile this band really is.  JRAD then served up a portion of Donovan’s “There is a Mountain” as a subtle nod to Oteil’s time with The Allman Brother’s Band (the song is the basis for The Allman’s “Mountain Jam”) before delivering the pay-off to the “China Cat” that we had heard earlier with the much loved “I Know You Rider.”  This version held just a little more gravity for the crowd as a cool Colorado rain did indeed fall during the song.  It wasn’t enough to deter anyone, but after a Tom Hamilton led “Greatest Story Ever Told” the band dropped into “Morning Dew” and timed the songs incredible build-up with an intensifying shower that peaked as the band peaked the final jam.

As the curfew was quickly approaching JRAD closed out the evening with the traditional “And We Bid You Goodnight” and showcased their significant vocal prowess as Oteil took the high part and ran away with it.  As we all left shell-shocked by what we had just seen, and the fact that JRAD is simple cover band was cemented on The Rocks.  While their light show could use some work, they are nothing short of brilliant at reinventing the music of The Grateful Dead and this is not the last time they will sell-out Red Rocks!

Energy: A
Musicianship: A+
Sound: A
Stage Presence: B
Set/Light Show: C

Overall: A-


Who Is Timothy Dwenger

Music has always been a part of my life. It probably all started listening to old Grateful Dead, Peter Paul & Mary, and Simon & Garfunkel records that my parents had, but it wasn't long before they were taking me to concerts like Starship, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Huey Lewis & The News. I got the bug to write about music after reviewing an Eric Clapton concert for a creative writing project in high school but didn't really take it up seriously until 2002. Since then I have published countless articles in The Marquee Magazine and done some work for, SPIN Magazine, and various other outlets. I started Listen Up Denver! as a way to share the music information that is constantly spilling out of my head with people who care. Please enjoy!