The Song Remains

Robert Hunter

Riviera Theatre - Chicago

[September 28, 1997]

First Appeared in The Music Box, November 1997, Volume 4, #12

Written by John Metzger

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After a long absence from touring, Robert Hunter returned to Chicago for his third appearance in town this year. This time around, Hunter chose the Riviera. The club kept the balcony closed, leaving the masses to cram onto the dance floor. This only helped to lift the crowd's spirit and energy level.

Hunter promptly took the stage and captured the audience's attention with a soulful Box of Rain, complete with a stunning guitar solo. As mentioned in our Furthur Festival review, a regular touring schedule has been a tremendous force in maintaining and improving his guitar playing.

Mason's Children set a playful tone for the rest of the show, which found Hunter to be in a jovial, playful mood. As he quite proudly explained, the day before he had become a grandfather. He dedicated the set-concluding Mountains of the Moon to his new grandson Rowan MacPherson Kielt.

Throughout the evening, Hunter took a number of improvisational guitar solos, which served to carry his lyrical excursions to new heights. One of the best of these came during Wharf Rat. Hunter leaned onto a stool, closed his eyes and drifted along with each note that dripped from his guitar.

The second set was a delightful, risk-taking adventure for Hunter. As he took the stage, he confessed that he did not know what he would play next or how he would play it. Much to Hunter's delight, the audience responded with a rousing cheer causing a smile to cross the poet's face.

Hunter immediately settled back onto his stool and tore through a scorching solo that led to a medley of Promontory Rider and Liberty. Other highlights from the set included a lovely rendition of It Must've Been the Roses, a rollicking Doin' That Rag and a serpentine fusion of Dire Wolf and Peggy-O.

In addition, Hunter pulled out a couple of new songs in the second set, and though they were all excellent, the best was The Song Remains. Prior to performing the tune, Hunter explained that around the time that he and Jerry Garcia were writing If I Had the World to Give, Garcia had come up with a riff. Hunter has carried that riff around with him since then and recently wrote a song around it.

As he would later write in his online road journal, "...the less energy I have before going on, the more I'll have for the music. Tonight was such a night. A full-scale energy exchange with the audience, whose enthusiasm encouraged me to take continuous risks with the material."

The energy exchange certainly was there in full-force. It was an intimate venue with an outstanding audience who was there not to hear "the guy that Jerry worked with," but to hear the master poet bring his life-inspiring lyrics to vivid, Technicolor fruition.

A Box of Rain: Live 1990 is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Copyright 1997 The Music Box