What a lot of odd-looking people there are in the world, and doubly so for Mott the Hoople fans. It makes sense when you remember they came along in the glam rock era; but it's just not the same when you're 50+ and you don't have Bowie's bone structure. It was fascinating and kind of scary, because I looked so normal. But what worried me was my own persona. Is this what I've become, the corporate executive in the tweed jacket? Am *I* the one who's out of place? Who the hell AM I?
I feel simultaneously defensive and defiant about Ian Hunter. I've loved him since his first solo album, Ian Hunter, was released in 1975. His solo stuff seemed more introspective and honest than Mott the Hoople, which was mostly a joyous romp. But no one seems to know who Ian Hunter is anymore, and I thought that era was over. So I was stunned to find him scheduled to appear at the Sheldon, and childishly excited and nervous to attend. (I almost talked myself out of going, more than once.)
I bought his two most recent CDs (who knew he was still recording?) and tried to get familiar with them. To me he sounded like a cross between a coherent Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. I tell myself I'm crazy, this is just a fun-loving rock and roller with a husky voice, and a few rhyming couplets that aren't bad. But I am full of shit. His songs are GOOD: by turns poignant, mocking, and filled with a humble gratitude.
And I'm sure it's not that I simply like everything, because the opening act was awful. And interminable. One of my moments of doubt arrived when I realized there was an opening act, which meant it would be a very late night indeed, for a hardworking corporate shill. But having sat through an hour of Freedy Johnston, I was damn sure going to stick around for Ian Hunter, whoever he has become.
At 75 years old, Ian Hunter appears to be about 45. His stage presence and movements reminded me of Sammy Hagar - arms bent and hands cupped, pulling in the love; or strumming, strolling, in total command of his space. In glaring contrast to Freedy, Hunter and his Rant Band moved smoothly from one number to another without banter. They were there to play, and they knew how to please the audience. From the opening number, with its greeting of "Pleased to meet ya," they moved straight into "Once Bitten, Twice Shy," from his 1975 solo debut, made famous decades later by Great White. With encouragement from bassist Paul Page, we sang the refrains with gleeful abandon.
After a few slower tunes, singing from center stage, Hunter moved to a keyboard at stage left and played a gospel chord progression, confessing, "I've always loved gospel music." He paused, and in an overdone British accent he added, "Unfortunately I cahn't SING gospel music, so I've got to do this instead." The song was "Black Tears":
Black tears - vulnerable veneers
Just another weapon in your arsenal of fear
Little beads of misery that kill me when you cry
Let me kiss the circles better underneath your eyes
Not exactly a crowd-singalong type song. But after the polite applause he dropped his right hand to the keyboard in the distinctive pound ... pause ... pound ... pause, one-two-three-FOUR! of Mott the Hoople's "All the Way from Memphis," and the audience was on its feet.
And so it went. The nearly two-hour set followed a very natural cadence of ballads and party tunes, taking us on an exhilarating ride. The other two Mott the Hoople favorites were appropriately held in reserve for the encore, but they followed "Life":
I hope you had a good time - hope your time was as good as mine
My, you're such a beautiful sight
I can't believe after all of these years
You're still here and I'm still here
Laugh, because it's only life
Definitely a well-crafted setlist. One moment that stands out to me is the beginning of "Ta Shunka Witco (Crazy Horse)." It started with the keyboard guy, Andy Burton, playing an eerie, sustained organ strain. Having shed his guitar, Hunter stepped up to the microphone and started beating the rhythm with his right arm, two beats in a tomahawk chop and the third beating against his heart, throughout the opening lines, until drummer Steve Holley chimed in with "All I need are my people, following me." We followed him like Crazy Horse's people.
Lead guitarist Mark Bosch was a joy to watch. I don't think he ever opened his eyes. Looking like Neil Young in the Crazy Horse years (maybe it was deliberate?), he played with his shoulders hunched protectively, cringeing from agony or ecstasy. Of course his crowning moment was the signature riff leading into "All the Young Dudes," but I enjoyed all his solos.
Yeah it's a mighty long way down rock'n'roll
As your name gets hot so your heart grows cold
'N you gotta stay young man, you can never be old
All the way from Memphis
I am so glad I went, and let Ian Hunter remind me of who's buried behind the corporate disguise.
Ian Hunter is really special. Please read the "Related articles" link below and watch the video, and maybe you'll get it. Let me know if you do! I'm feeling awfully alone here.