Kevin Staunton
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It’s been a long journey to Red Rocks for Grateful Dead tribute act Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. But anything Dead related is always a long strange trip. The band was scheduled to make their debut at the famed venue on April 29 earlier this year, however, the show was moved indoors to the 1st Bank Center because of a spring snow storm. While JRAD crushed their sold out show at 1stBank Center, fans were eager to see the band in the majestic setting that is Red Rocks. Which made it all the more triumphant--as the lights of Denver began to twinkle and lightning flashed in the distance--that Joe Russo’s Almost Dead took the hallowed stage on Aug. 31.

Be sure to check out our amazing phot gallery above captured by Kevin Staunton.

JRAD proceeded to deliver two jam heavy sets interwoven with teases and reprisals for a sold out Red Rocks audience. The band got things kicked off with a jam, which eventually led into “Here Comes Sunshine.” One of the first things you noticed was that the band’s volume was relatively quiet, even close to the stage. This, however, didn’t mean that there was no energy, even though the first set seemed a little subdued. 

Next came “Ruben and Cherise” and “Mama Tried” ahead of a funky, laid back “New Speedway Boogie” (they would nod in and out of “NSB” throughout the set), with Joe Russo playing drums like he was swimming and guest bass player Oteil Burbridge of Dead & Company (filling in for Drew Dreiwitz who is on tour with Ween) taking the bass line for a jazzy walk.

The band segued into what sound like “The Music Never Stopped” before jumping into “Dancin in the Streets” with big solos over a tasty groove from keyboardist Marco Benevento and guitarists Tom Hamilton and Scott Metzger. After a “NSB” reprise, came a gorgeous “Box of Rain” sung by Oteil Burbridge, who actually sounded a lot like the song’s author, GD bassist Phil Lesh. 

JRAD then dripped into “He’s Gone,” which contained a great buildup to the crowd pleasing line “steal your face right off your head” from Russo, much to the delighted surprise of Tom Hamilton. Riding on that energy, the band launched into the Dead classic “Truckin,” and got a big response from the crowd at the mention of Houston. JRAD closed “Truckin” and the set with a booming tease of “Born Cross-Eyed.” While they started the set a bit subdued, the energy built up at the end of the first set carried into the second.

Set two got underway with a crowd pleasing “Jack Straw,” which contained a big ramp up from Benevento on organ. Up next was the funky, “Feel Like a Stranger” and the first Phish (who were about to perform at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park for the Labor Day weekend) tease of the night with a “Harry Hood” jam. JRAD then jumped into the late 60s psychedelic epic “China Cat Sunflower” ahead of the Dead live rarity “The Eleven” before changing gears again with “The Wheel.” The latter contained the second Phish tease of the night with Benevento playing the melody from Phish’s “Bathtub Gin” on his Fender Rhodes.

After a few sections of “The Wheel” and a “There Is a Mountain” (Donovan) tease, JRAD finally made it to “I Know You Rider” (the Grateful Dead typically did “China Cat” into “I Know You Rider”). At some point in every JRAD show Joe Russo’s extreme talent blinds you. Here, it seemed as if Joe could be heard from the top of Red Rocks with little or no amplification. He is an absolute beast on the kit. After a strange, trippy jam the band hopped into a rolicking “Greatest Story Ever Told.” After a few verses, JRAD reverted back to the minor, Latin sounding jam which produced the third and final Phish tease: a quick run of the “Stash” riff from Tom Hamilton.

JRAD closed out the second set with a spiritual “Morning Dew.” The song Started out so quiet you could hear jangling jewelry (we’ve never heard Red Rocks so quiet) but built into a cacophony of sound that gave you chills. Tom Hamilton delivered an amazing vocal performance and it really seemed as if the spirit of the Grateful Dead had taken him over. After thanking the crowd, Joe Russo and company returned for a great a capella “We Bid You Goodnight.” It certainly was.

You can check out a meticulously compiled setlist from Peter Costello below via Jambase.

Set One (7:50PM – 9:45PM): Jam -> Here Comes Sunshine @ > Reuben & Cerise -> Jam -> Mama Tried, New Speedway Boogie # -> Music Never Stopped Reprise -> New Speedway Jam -> Music Never Stopped Jam -> Dancing In The Streets $ -> New Speedway Reprise % -> Box Of Rain ^ (OB), He’s Gone & -> Truckin’ -> Born Cross Eyed Jam

Set Two (10:01PM – 11:27PM): Jack Straw > Feel Like A Stranger * -> Harry Hood Jam + -> China Cat Sunflower -> The Eleven -> The Wheel @@ -> There Is A Mountain ## > I Know You Rider, Greatest Story Ever Told $$, Morning Dew

Encore: We Bid You Goodnight %%

@ – With a “Sex Machine” (James Brown) Tease (MB), a “La Di Da Di” (Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick) Tease (MB)
# – Unfinished
$ – With Music Never Stopped Teases (TH), an unknown Tease (MB), New Speedway Teases & lyrics, a “Memphis Soul Stew” (King Curtis) Tease (OB), “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough (Michael Jackson) Teases (SM & MB).
% – First split New Speedway
^ – With an Uncle John’s Band Tease (Band)
& – With Truckin & Tennessee Jed Teases (TH) & a “Humdinger” (WOLF) tease (SM)
* – Unfinished
+ – Instrumental, incomplete version of a Phish Cover (No lyrics were sung), First Time Played By Almost Dead.
@@ – First verse sung in 11, with an “In With the In Crowd” (Ramsey Lewis) Jam, a “Bathtub Gin” (Phish) Tease (MB)
## – Donovan Cover, Instrumental with 2 choruses only sung, First Time Played By Almost Dead. Basis for the Allman Bros “Mountain Jam” but closer to the original Donovan version.
$$ – With a “Night in Tunisia” (Dizzy Gillespie) Jam, an Estimated Prophet Tease (TH) & an “Stash” (Phish) Tease (SM)
%% – A cappella at their positions with vocal mics, not at the front of the stage