Before I saw Joe Russo’s Almost Dead for the first time Monday night, I totally misunderstood the band’s titular pun. I can’t help but laugh at my sheer stupidity, but I thought it was a combination of “Hey, we’re a Grateful Dead cover band” and “When our drummer parties, we have 911 on speed dial”. But just 15 minutes into Joe Russo’s Almost Dead's first set at the Boulder Theater, it dawned on me.
New Year’s Day is always a time of recovery for most. Due to the holidays and previous night’s revelry and celebration ringing in the New Year, it can be difficult for some to motivate. For this reason, many bands take this opportunity to throw down for their dedicated. That is why I wanted to be here for this laid back all-star jam. And it was for good reason. These musicians were ready to play even after a three set New Year’s Eve show the night before.
For the first time since Yonder Mountain String Band took up residence at The Boulder Theater for its holiday run (in 2011), the band decided to play three sets for New Year’s Eve. Each set had its own motif, but all three were governed by the same primary theme. When it initially hit the stage, the quintet played an hour of buoyant, uplifting songs that were singed with beauty.
This has been an amazing few months of music for me, but once again, I cannot avoid writing about how music has literally spread its wings to reach out as far as possible with different mixtures of sounds and influences to combine into a genreless gumbo. Elephant Revival’s Facebook pages states, “Where words fail…music speaks,” and as a writer, I could not agree more. I often ask my muse, where do I get the words to describe some of the music that I have been seeing lately? Needless to say, it is difficult.
Last weekend Elephant Revival returned home for a sold-out two night run at the Boulder Theater in Boulder, Colorado. The set of shows was called “Birds of a Feather Autumnal Ball”. The band Horse Feathers from Portland, Oregon kicked things off on Friday and opened for Elephant Revival.
I am not very religious, but I do consider myself very spiritual, and if I were to attend a church, it would be something that included the music of these guys. I do not mean to sound overly dramatic, but I was nearly moved to tears several times by the power that I felt coming from this stage. There were four men, two Malian (Muslim) and two Israeli (Jewish), and the music that they make together is as piano player and singer Idan Raichel calls religious on certain songs especially. It was one of my favorite musical experiences that I have ever had.
I cannot believe that it has been almost a decade since I first saw Matisyahu perform “Close My Eyes” with his musical idol and mine, Trey Anastasio at Bonnaroo in 2005. After that joyous performance, I attended one of his concerts. And, in 2008, I saw him play at the Jammy Award Ceremony with Rose Hill Drive and his bandmates Aaron Dugan and Rob Marscher (formerly of 2001 Jammy nominees Addison Groove Project). They played a Flaming Lips song, and that night was one of my favorite moments in music.
How many more Dead tribute bands does the scene really need? There’s truly already plenty out there. Even if the music is structured to be boundless and open for continuation, it seems like bands could better serve the music with an improvisational spirit, but playing originals instead of Dead covers. Indeed it takes a special group of musicians who understand the music inside out and have the ability to diversify the extensive catalogue instead of simply parroting it.