Joe Russo's Almost Dead | Photo © Headyshots Photography

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

Friday night featured the powerhouse quartet known as , 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 on keys, Dreiwitz from (and Marco’s trio) on bass, and rounding out on guitar, Bustle is a well polished machine that attacks the Zeppelin catalog technical prowess and a bombast that nearly matches their idols. While all the reports from confirmed that they put on an incredible show per usual, the real buzz was focused entirely on that Russo put together the following night.

For the Saturday night performance, Russo took the Bustle band and added to the mix on guitar and lead vocals for a two-set interpretation of the ’s catalog for a show billed as “Almost Dead”. Russo and co took the lucky souls in attendance on a through some of ’s most beloved songs that paid homage to the original tunes while at the same time showcasing them in an entirely new light. was absolutely buzzing on Sunday and Monday, many claiming that it was the best Dead related show since a Phil and Friends run in 2006 The Q, or even all the way back to the legendary run at in 1999, where 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 of these musicians or 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, explained that having spent the last 3+ years as the drummer in , 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 , 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 , Tennessee Jed > Shakedown Street > China Cat Sunflower > I Know You Rider

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

Encore: U.S. Blues

Download or stream it here.

() Joe Russo's Almost Dead - Jam/China Cat/I Know You Rider - - 1.26.13

Joe Russo's Almost Dead @ Bowl, Estimated Prophet, Eyes of the World 1/26/13

Joe Russo's Almost Dead - Eyes Of The World @ Bowl

East coast born and raised, San Francisco since 2006.