Key Club – June 17, 2007
How many folks in the audience first saw Ian Hunter when he was the main man in Mott the Hoople? Back on the Sunset Strip in the glam rock days? When performer and fan were thinner of waist, thicker of hair and wearing far taller heels? Three decades later, Hunter still had the fire in his belly and delivered a fine show for the rabid fans gathered at the intimate Key Club. Normal heels were prevalent.
With a nice balance between songs from the sterling new album Shrunken Heads (Yep Roc) and enough of his Mott classics, the nearly two hour show solidly delivered. “Soul of America” and the lead track “Words (Big Mouth)” were very effective, bridged by a snippet from the vintage “I Wish I Was Your Mother.” The title track featured some tasty guitar licks traded by the crack back-up band. Hunter’s harmonica playing and acoustic guitar work were generally sharp.
The history of Hunter and Mott is well-known, and the stuff of legend. After a quartet of albums on the classy Island label, the band was about to throw in the towel. Lackluster sales coupled with a fervent but tiny following was growing old. Famously, David Bowie tossed the band a liferope in 1972 with “All the Young Dudes,” which spread Mott’s fame far beyond their established fan base. The subsequent album Mott blended the pathos, passion and vigor of a band in its prime. The album has gotten better with age. The Hoople was the inevitable follow-up, with flashes of brilliance. The years of touring paid off with an unprecedented week’s worth of sold out shows on Broadway (Queen opened), but Hunter quit at its apogee.
He launched his solo career in 1975 with a string of well-received albums, firmly establishing himself as an insightful songwriter and solo performer. He consistently laid his heart on his sleeve and despite the raspiness and narrow range of his vocals, the albums struck a chord. He established his credibility with 1981’s Short Back ‘n Sides by enlisting some of The Clash. The link was Guy Stevens, who produced London Calling and Mott’s first four albums.
A phrase in nearly all articles about Hunter is ‘world weary’ and this review is no exception. His perspective as a 67 year old rocker is rather deep and broad.
Another gravelly voiced Brit was starting to make waves in the early 1970s, but Rod Stewart wrote few of his songs (“Maggie May” being the shining exception). Hunter has amassed a solid songbook, and he pulled from all corners for his concert setlist at the Key Club. “All the Way From Memphis” featured Hunter on keyboard. A tribute to the late great guitarist Mick Ronson was excellent, and featured a snippet from Phil Spector’s “To Know Him is to Love Him.” It segued smoothly into “All the Young Dudes.” Hunter closed the show with one of the greatest self-referential songs about rock and roll, “Saturday Gigs.” The song tied back to the lyrics heard earlier in the evening:
Yeh it’s a mighty long way down rock ‘n roll
Through the Bradford Cities and the Orioles
And you look like a star but you’re still on the dole
It was a very satisfying show on Sunset, thick heels or not.