Ian Hunter and the gang make us all remember the Saturday Gigs
Here’s the thing about live rock & roll: It’s supposed to give you the feels. Nostalgia. Empowerment. Angst. Joy. Catharsis. The list goes on and on. But, a really great live rock & roll show? It’s more than visceral. It puts your brain and your body and your soul in overdrive. It schools you. It teaches you something you never knew you needed to learn.
Mott the Hoople 74 (so named because it’s mostly the 1974 lineup) will do that to you. They will show you exactly what a brilliant rock & roll band does, and your mind will be blown because they were that freaking good. Any critic who uses the term “aging rockers” to describe this group of fellas should be banned from ever writing another word. I’ve seen college bands who don’t have one-eighth the energy of these blokes. Ian Hunter must have vocal cords made of steel because he hit every note and sang like it was, well, 1974. Pianist Morgan Fisher and guitarist “ARIEL BENDER” (must be said with a dramatic shout and reverberation) were both spot on and added some punked-out, Marx Brothers-esque fun to the show. Morgan really demonstrated his creative chops with an avant-garde intro to “All the Way from Memphis,” and I’ll be damned if Ian didn’t get all of the words exactly right, because I never do.
WHAT: Mott the Hoople 74
WHERE: Chicago Theatre
WHEN: April 3, 2019
And, yes, the rest of the band – members of Ian’s Rant Band, I have since discovered – conveyed some spectacular musicianship, as well. No wonder they played like a band with credible chemistry and not like a thrown-together hodgepodge of session players. I’m not going to name them (except for James Mastro, the sax player/guitarist, since I have a soft spot for guitarists who also play sax) because sometimes the “backing band” doesn’t get their names in the review. Google them. They were awesome.
But, back to the three originals from 1974. These guys are members of our rock & roll heroes club and they’re playing live and they’re playing their asses off and it’s something to behold! Ian Hunter’s vocal quality is difficult to describe, but I’ll try. It’s as if he’s the sublime, snotty spawn of Ray Davies and Patti Smith (yeah, I know, they’re essentially his contemporaries) with a smidge of comedy duo Peter Cook & Dudley Moore (Google might again be your friend here). I found myself laughing out loud with glee at his phrasing, which is simultaneously glam-punk rocker and cockney crooner. And, if we could bottle his laughter, we’d all live forever.
I’m hoping that Ian, Morgan and Ariel get on in person as well as they get along on stage because it was magical, man. And, yes, Morgan and Ariel are both masters of their craft. Ariel’s loose and swooping solos are, for me, the very definition of glam guitar (along with artistry of the dear, departed, golden god Mick Ronson). And, Morgan Fisher? I kept thinking I heard tinges of some of my favorite pianists (Mose Allison, Nina Simone, Floyd Cramer, Glenn Gould), but then realized, NO, he’s just Morgan Fucking Fisher!
It’s worth noting that the band made their entrance to the unmistakable voice of a young David Bowie (another guitarist/sax player…swoon), from a 1972 audio recording as he introduced the band for which he had written their best known tune. You could feel the tears welling up throughout the theatre. The night concluded full circle with that song, “All the Young Dudes.” For the rest of the set list, the internet is at your full disposal. In a moment of #metoo levity – yes, there can be such a thing, because we’re all human – the 79 years YOUNG (and adorable) Ian Hunter pointed to someone in the audience and said, “You there, in the glasses, meet me after the show. I can still do it!”
Perfection in every way, shape and form. Fuck off, ageists, you will never be “one of the boys.”