Ask any person to name a great classic rock songwriter, and chances are they'll say either Bob Dylan or the duo of McCartney and Lennon. Unless the person is a fan of Grateful Dead lyrics, the name Robert Hunter probably won't come up, but it should. The majority of the Grateful Dead's original songs are Hunter / Garcia collaborations, where Garcia composed the music and Hunter wrote the lyrics. On Tuesday night at City Winery in NYC, us Grateful Dead fans got to hear some of our favorite songs and lyrics straight from the source himself.
Armed with a black guitar matching his outfit, the first set started off a little shaky, with no amplified guitar sound. Nevertheless, Robert played "Dire Wolf" into "Peggy-O" while holding the guitar up to the vocal mic as he sang. The crowd sat attentively and hung on to every word and note that was played, and let out a giant ovation at the end of the song. A heartfelt "Ship Of Fools" was followed by "Keys To The Rain," a song from his 1974 solo album, Tales Of The Great Rum Runners. Next was "FANDANGALERO," a song Robert shyly admitted that it took him about six and a half years to write.
"Ramble On Rose" was greeted with applause and the crowd sang along to the lyrics, which Robert jokingly asked for help with. This was a mostly seated event, but you could see a few people stand up to sway their hips back and forth as some impressive playing was featured towards the end. Mr. Hunter closed out the first set with "Yellow Moon," a number from 1975's Tiger Rose, and a short but sweet version of "Friend Of The Devil."
After a short intermission, Mr. Hunter took to the stage and opened with "Dry Dusty Road," then went into "Brokedown Palace" much to the delight of everyone in the crowd. It's a song that holds a special place in many fans' hearts and smiles were visible across the crowd's faces. The 1975 tune "One Thing To Try" led into the Hunter / Garcia collaboration of "Lazy River Road," that Robert sang with passion. "Into The Blue," a song that he introduced during his solo tour in spring of 2002, showcased Robert's powerful vocals towards the end that left the crowd very impressed. A relaxed version of "Mission In The Rain" was followed with "Reuben And Cerise," for which Robert broke out the harmonica and excited the audience with his harp blowing.
When the Grateful Dead would perform "Franklin's Tower" in concert, it was always an upbeat, dance-along type of song. However, it was refreshing to hear Robert's slowed down, acoustic version and the song's lyrics took on a more personal meaning. This led into "Ripple," a song that Robert wrote in London in 1970. It is perhaps the song he is most well known for as a songwriter, and nowadays it's almost expected at every show he plays. I loved it, the fans loved it, and Robert performed it magically. Closing out the show, Mr. Hunter stood up to lead an a cappella singalong of "Boys In The Barroom" that had the crowd on their feet one last time.
Robert Hunter will wrap up his three day residency at City Winery tonight before bringing his Beyond The Blue Horizon tour to the Newport Folk Festival. For further information regarding music, news, and tour dates, check out his official website. Below you can enjoy a fan sourced YouTube clip of "Wharf Rat" from Monday.
"WHARF RAT" - ROBERT HUNTER AT CITY WINERY, NYC 7.21.2014