The Days Between
House of Blues - Chicago
March 4, 1997
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 1997, Volume 4, #3
Written by John Metzger
Robert Hunter's treks across the country are rare, and news of his return to the road for a March tour spread like wildfire through the Deadhead community. For all of his performance quirks, he possesses a unique ability for bringing his lyrics to life. Unfortunately, House of Blues is not an ideal venue for a solo performer. The soundboard is centered directly behind the main floor, and while the main floor is open for several stories upward, the soundboard as well as the region behind it is enclosed by the box seats located above. The flaw: there are no speakers for anyone located under this vast area, despite the fact that more people are crammed into this portion of the venue than can fit on the floor. Consequently, Hunter's performance was interrupted quite frequently with shouts of "Louder!" from the crowd.
Equally problematic was the billing for the show. While affixing the subtitle "lyricist for the Grateful Dead" to all of the advertising associated with the performance undoubtedly helped fill the room to capacity for two consecutive nights, it also brought out a lot of folks who were simply there to hear Truckin' while talking over any song that they don't happen to recognize. One person commented, "Do you think he'll play acoustic?"...'Nuff said.
Hunter kicked the show off with a well-played and highly appropriate Box of Rain. Written for Phil Lesh's dying father, the song's lyrics were easily transformed to fit the current situation. Hunter sang, Inch your way through Dead dreams to another land, adding the appropriate emphasis. Unfortunately, the short (35-minute) first set went downhill from there, as Hunter was highly distracted by various problems with his monitor. The other highlights from the set were largely ignored by the audience since the songs never were performed by the Grateful Dead. These were performances of Rum Runners and End of the Road.
It was during the second set that Hunter really found his groove for the evening and overcame those opening night jitters. After a powerful New Speedway Boogie, Hunter took everyone by surprise by careening into Bob Dylan's Shelter from the Storm. Hunter introduced Cruel White Water as, the story of my life...only in code. This kept the audience interested for a few minutes, allowing the subtle textures of Hunter's guitar playing to bubble to the surface.
About halfway through the hour-long second set, Hunter totally found his place and allowed himself to stay there for the duration of the concert. Sugaree was magical, as Hunter fit rhythm and solo together to carry the song to tremendous heights. The echo of Jerry Garcia's guitar eerily crept through his playing. The energy continued through Hunter's 1974 ballad Yellow Moon. Again, the audience was lost, and did not recover until quieted by fellow attendees during a beautiful rendition of Down the Road. Hunter carried this song well. The set concluded with a pairing of Reuben and Cérise, complete with all the lyrics, and a rousing Promontory Rider. The encore included the absolute highlight of the show, a sweetly played Days Between, and the reverberating effects that were cast upon Hunter's voice provided transportation back to the Grateful Dead's August 22, 1993 performance in Eugene, Oregon. Wispy phosphorescent clouds were painted across a multi-colored, glowing sky like phantom ships with phantom sails set to sea on phantom tides. A perfect Ripple and an a cappella Boys in the Barroom concluded the show.
A Box of Rain: Live 1990 is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Copyright © 1997 The Music Box