This Week’s Must Hear: Joe Russo’s Almost Dead

Joe Russo's Almost Dead | Photo © Headyshots Photography

One of the best New York traditions over the last decade has been the Freaks Ball, which reached it’s 13th incarnation last weekend at Brooklyn Bowl. Over the years, some impressive lineups have been put together by the NYC Freaks, and this year was no exception. Freaks Ball mainstay and LMB fave Joe Russo has participated in most of the shows in some formation or another (The Benevento/Russo Duo, American Babies, and Coxygen), but this time Russo truly was the center of attention.

Friday night featured the powerhouse quartet known as Bustle in Your Hedgerow, which our faithful readers will know is the most jaw-dropping Zeppelin instrumental experience one could ever hope for. Featuring Russo on drums, his middle school pal Marco Benevento on keys, Dave Dreiwitz from Ween (and now Marco’s trio) on bass, and Scott Metzger rounding out the band on guitar, Bustle is a well polished machine that attacks the Zeppelin catalog with technical prowess and a bombast that nearly matches their idols. While all the reports from NYC confirmed that they put on an incredible show per usual, the real buzz was focused entirely on the band that Russo put together the following night.

For the Saturday night performance, Russo took the Bustle band and added American Babies’ Tom Hamilton to the mix on guitar and lead vocals for a two-set interpretation of the Grateful Dead’s catalog for a show billed as “Almost Dead”. Russo and co took the lucky souls in attendance on a journey through some of The Dead’s most beloved songs that paid homage to the original tunes while at the same time showcasing them in an entirely new light. The internet was absolutely buzzing on Sunday and Monday, with many claiming that it was the best Dead related show since a Phil and Friends run in 2006 with The Q, or even all the way back to the legendary Phil & Friends run at The Warfield in 1999, where such titans like Anastasio, Kimock, and McConnell joined forces. Whatever the case, I knew I had to hear the tapes for myself.

Well, thanks to the amazingly quick turn around of the taper community, I’ve spend the last few days digesting and relistening to the show, and I think it’s safe to say that the initial reviews were entirely on point: any fans of these musicians or the Dead need to stop what they’re doing and listen to this monster immediately. The band is locked in from the first note, displaying a tightness that is absolutely mind-blowing once you remember the fact that this was their FIRST EVER performance (and hopefully not last). Even the vocals and harmonies are impressive, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that we’ve been blessed with an amazingly crisp and clear matrix recording (a soundboard patch mixed with an audience tape) either.

Between songs during the first set, Joe Russo explained that having spent the last 3+ years as the drummer in Furthur, he has been living and breathing the entire Dead catalog — something which he hadn’t been that familiar with before he got the nod from Bobby & Phil. Joe went on to say that he thought it would be cool to put together a band of his friends to introduce folks from the Dead scene and fanbase to a new group of musicians. My gut tells me that most of the people in attendance already knew of Marco and maybe even Dave, but this recording is sure to spread far and wide, so I think Joe may just get his wish. It’s unclear how many hours of practice these five folks put into this gig, but the end result speaks for itself. Enjoy!

Set One: Bertha, Althea, Jack Straw, Deal > Mr. Charlie, Brown-Eyed Women, Tennessee Jed > Shakedown Street > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider

Set Two: Estimated Prophet > Eyes of the World > Help On The Way > Slipknot! > Franklin’s Tower, St. Stephen > The Eleven > The Other One > Viola Lee Blues

Encore: U.S. Blues

Download or stream it here.