“And the fields are full of dancin’, Full of singin’ and romancin’
The music never stopped.”

A week after the Fare the Well Dead 50 concerts were announced, Dead Heads were poised to celebrate the Grateful Dead’s epic song catalog. Joe Russo’s Almost Dead successfully delivered over two hours of music to a fervent fan base at the glorious Brooklyn Bowl for the 2nd of a two night run on Saturday, January 24th, 2014.

Amidst a sea of tribute acts, the group unquestionably brings the most energy. There are 342 Grateful Dead tribute acts according to www.gratefuldeadtributebands.com and none does a more exemplary job. The group consists of is Joe Russo (drums), Marco Benevento (keys), Scott Metzger (guitar), Tommy Hamilton (guitar) and these shows saw the return of Dave Dreiwitz (bass) who had graciously given up his spot with the axe on stage to allow Phil Lesh to lead the troops for the three PhilRad shows to conclude 2014.

Brooklyn Bowl was bustling and sold-out for the 2nd night of the Freaks Ball. The band is not afraid to dig into deep cuts and play them well. A deliberate slowburn of “Alligator” commenced the proceedings with passion. An early highlight was a bouncy and jubilant “Jack-a-Roe” which got the cozy crowd dancing with delight. “Uncle John’s Band” provided the first bona fide sing-along of the evening as the Bowl screamed the lyrics with a frenzy. Another memorable moment was the fiery crescendo during “Ramble on Rose” when the venue erupted, “Take me to the leader of the band…”

Scotty Metzger, with clear and crisp vocals, steered us through a monster “Music Never Stopped” before a momentous exploratory jam during “Help on the Way” enthralled the audience. “Slipknot” segued into a psychedelic cycle of stimulating sensory overload that was “Shakedown Street.” Marco “The Wonderful Wizard of Weird” Benevento provided jazzy fills and made one wonder if he would have been the best keyboard player the Dead ever had, should he have been in the band. He knew when best to add his massive skills. Tommy Hamilton provided subtle and nuanced vocals while strutting on stage to the disco romp that was fast and fiery. The “Truckin’” was not as engaging as the epic one that recently opened a show at the Cap but was still raucous and inviting. The highlight of the show may have been the barn-burning encore of “Brown Eyed Women” that showcased the group’s ability to play with excessive energy and force throughout.

It should come as no surprise that the band plays so well as a cohesive unit. The core four (sans Hamilton) have been performing as the instrumental Led Zeppelin tribute act, Bustle in the Hedgerow, for years. They clearly know each other’s tendencies and play off one another seamlessly.

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, which had previously only played a handful of shows together over the past two years, are now scheduled for a heavy tour schedule including shows in Providence and Portland in the upcoming weeks and across the Midwest in May. They have an intensive fest schedule with stops set for Wakarusa, High Sierra, Counter Point, Mountain Jam, and a Jazz Fest after-party. If one wants to experience the definitive Grateful Dead tribute experience, one should not miss one of these gigs.

Set I: Alligator, Jack a Roe, Uncle Johns Band, Ophelia, Ramble on Rose, Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line, Bertha

Set II: The Music Never Stopped, Cumberland Blues, Help>Slip>Shakedown, Truckin’, Morning Dew, Encore: Brown Eyed Women