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The Return of Robert Hunter

by Dean Budnick on September 27, 2013

Last evening, longtime Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter returned to the stage as he kicked off his first tour in nearly a decade. Opening with "Box of Rain," his two set performance at the Paramount in Huntington NY, drew on material from the Grateful Dead canon ("New Speedway Boogie," “Days Between,” “Attics Of My Life,”), his work with Bob Dylan ("Silvio") as well as his own solo career (“Tales of the Great Rum Runners,” “Tiger Rose").

Here is the complete setlist:

Set I: Box of Rain, Dire Wolf, Peggy-O, Cruel White Water, Ship of Fools, Candyman, Silvio, New Speedway Boogie

Set II: Deal, Tales of the Great Rum Runners, Jack Straw, Stella Blue, Tiger Rose, Days Between, Brokedown Palace, Reuben and Cherise, Attics Of My Life, Scarlet Begonias, Ripple

Enc: Boys In The Barroom (a cappella)

Last week we ran an interview with Hunter in which he discussed the medical concerns that led him to perform once again, as well as other aspects of his career. Today we offer additional tidbits from that conversation as Hunter shares his thoughts on the live audience, fiction-writing and even Trent Reznor.

The challenges of performing some few Hunter-Garcia compositions in the solo setting

There are a couple that would be difficult for me to do like “What’s Become of the Baby.” I possibly could do “Eyes of the World.” Somewhere along the line it just seemed to me too rhythmically difficult for one guy to pull off. But maybe I could now.

On his evolving relationship with the audience

The last time I performed they didn’t have the cell phones that you can take videos with. It used to make me feel a little bit weird when they would snap pictures, it would distract me and I know this is going to happen, that people will be taking videos, so I’m prepared for it but it’s going to be strange.

I went to see Rodriguez a couple weeks ago at the Warfield and there they were, people taking the videos. That was hell of a show, by the way, the Rodriguez show.

But there’s no time for philosophical thinking when you’re giving a performance, you’re so heavily invested in all the things you’re doing at the moment and then at the end you can tell what people think by whether they clap.

There are those magical moments when you and the audience are becoming one unit. And then all of a sudden there’s the unit that is clapping and the other that is taking the bow and you’re split again. There is a sort of chemistry that you experience on stage and then afterwards it’s hard to talk about it. There are just moments and that’s kind of what you do it for. Sometimes the moment will last for a whole song or sometimes it’s a couple moments during a song but hardly ever for a while show.

The “lost” Robert Hunter science fiction novel

I sent it out and I had an agent marketing it and whatnot and I had a few nibbles on it and then the agent just disappeared. So after a while I figured I’m just as well not publishing it. My mother read it, my sister read it, my wife read it. They thought it was nice (laughs).

I’ve written a couple of books and I’ve put them away afterwards. I consider they’re probably too weird for most human beings to read. The thing is I don’t really care much to publish. I like writing but I don’t like all that goes with it, everything you have to do. So I’ve sort of figured that stuff is for posthumous distribution.I don’t mean to sound grim but I’ll leave it behind, as far as I know.

Press

It must be done and sometimes surprisingly it can be a pleasure because more often not you’re talking to damn decent people. But I don’t know what to say about my show. My show is my show, not me. I myself am not my show. I know it’s a strange place to be coming from but if somebody recognizes me on the street I’m almost mortified. It doesn’t happen that often but I’ve very reticent about the idea of being known.

Self-criticism

I write what comes to me, I have no plan. What comes through me is what comes through me. Sometime I think it’s incredible but I’m not my biggest fan (laughs). If I listen to something I hear the flaws in it. I focus on the flaws which is why it’s really hard for me to listen to recordings of my live shows.

New Sounds

My daughter tells me that things are coming around again. She’s very invested in today’s music and made damn sure I caught Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails show the other night over the real good quality broadcast. That’s just come so far since the Grateful Dead was doing that kind of stuff and it was great. So if you want to count me a Trent Reznor fan, that came a good deal towards making me one. I really liked that show a lot.

Old Friends

I listened to David Nelson’s birthday party over the radio the other day and boy they were good, Nelson’s band. Hot stuff.

He’s got a whole bunch of stuff that I wrote for him before I got ill. He’s working at it and I’m very pleased with the two New Riders records that we wrote the lion’s share of the stuff on. David doesn’t work fast though. He’s cautious and slow and he gets it right. You know, that’s the old gang, me and Jerry and David, we were making bands back in those days and it feels right. It feels like homey stuff, working with him is just right.

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