At least twice each year, Joe Russo and his Almost Dead bandmates return to where it all began. This winter’s run at Brooklyn Bowl was only three nights, March 8, 9 and 10, beginning with deep cuts for Grateful Dead aficionados before broadening out on subsequent nights with covers of The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Band.

Opening night was dedicated to original Dead keyboardist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan on the 45th anniversary of his death. Selections from Pigpen-era albums Anthem of the Sun and Aoxomoxoa included “Alligator,” a JRAD favorite to kick things off and find the groove, “St. Stephen” and “Dupree’s Diamond Blues.” The second set opened with an early rarity, “The Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion),” followed by favorites such as “Jack Straw,” “Scarlet Begonias” and “I Know You Rider.”

Photos here are from night two, which featured a shorter setlist but extended interpretations filled with teases and detours that eventually circled back to familiar tunes. “Eyes of the World,” “Dancin’ in the Streets” and “Tennessee Jed” were first-set highlights, capped off by Scott Metzger’s vocals on Junior Parker’s “Next Time You See Me,” another song performed by Pigpen during the Dead’s early days. There were times it seemed it was going to be Metzger’s night as he sang and took extended solos before Marco Benevento stepped out on keys and Tom Hamilton took his turns on guitar. The jams were evenly distributed, with Russo calling the shots from behind the drums and Dave Dreiwitz holding it all together on bass. The second set was more Dead standards (“Bertha,” “Peggy-O” and “Playing in the Band’), but the encore was a surprise cover of the R&B classic “It’s All Over Now” that The Rolling Stones turned into one of their earliest hits.

The final night picked up where the previous night left off, with Metzger reprising “It’s All Over Now” to open the show. It was a more wide-open affair, with teases of Radiohead connecting pieces of the “Help on the Way” jam. Before the JRAD shows, Joe Russo was part of the Music of Led Zeppelin benefit at Carnegie Hall. He’s a long-time Zep admirer with his own Bustle in the Hedgerow project, and he managed to work in an instrumental cover of “Good Times Bad Times” between alternate takes of “Throwing Stones.” Russo also sang on The Band’s “Chest Fever” with help from Tom Hamilton before ending appropriately with “One More Saturday Night.”

JRAD's tour continues, and will return to NYC for a Prospect Park show on 7/19 (tickets) before heading to Virginia for Lockn'.

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photos and words by Lou Montesano

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