Guilt by association can be tough to shake. If you don’t believe me, ask Ian Hunter. Back in the early ‘70s, when his group Mott The Hoople first came to the public’s attention, glam rock was all the rage. And it just so happened that David Bowie—glam’s reigning pied piper at the time—wrote and produced the band’s first and biggest hit, “All the Young Dudes”. So, presto, Mott was suddenly a glam band! In reality, the group’s albums were not filled with superficial teen anthems, but eclectic nods to folk, blues, and good old rock and roll.
But in concert tonight, Hunter proved decisively that he is, and always has been, a relevant artist, and that all that misplaced glitter has long since rubbed off. About the only similarity Hunter shares with Bowie today is that he too has aged particularly well.
Dressed in a loose-fitting black shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes, Hunter hit the stage, fronting a five-piece band and sporting a real spring in his step. Naturally, he also wore those distinctive bug-eyed shades. But then, a man does have to keep his rock star image alive, right?
It’s clear that Hunter fully trusts his audience, a fact exemplified by his gutsy decision to open his show with a quiet, mostly acoustic version of “Rest in Peace”. Rather than instantly pump up the volume and artificially jumpstart his audience’s emotions, Hunter exhibited utter faith in the inherent quality of his songs.
But then, if you’d written the kinds of gems that Hunter has created over the years, you might be a little cocky too. Still, it didn’t take long for him to strap on his electric six-string for some assertive boogie on songs like “Lounge Lizard” and “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”.
Hunter further asserted his relevance by performing the sobering “Twisted Steel”. I’m not sure if this song was inspired by 9/11, but it clearly expresses an appropriate emotional response to the events that occurred on that sadly tragic day. For this live rendition, Hunter played an acoustic guitar and occasionally blew into his harmonica.
In fact, there were quite a few gentle moments where Hunter played acoustic, while accompanied by empathic mandolin. During these folk-ish instances, he came off as an English Bob Dylan, mixed with a less “Do You Think I’m Sexy?” Rod Stewart. Ultimately, he filled the role of the traveling musical troubadour to perfection.
This particular night, Hunter didn’t say a whole lot from the stage, preferring instead to let his songs do the talking. He often smiled, though, which led one to infer that he was having a good time. He closed this show, predictably, by singing “All The Young Dudes”. And though this song is now a certified classic-rock oldie, it’s still an excellent show-closer. It allows everybody to sing and sway right along, and leaves one and all with gathered goose bumps as Hunter exits the stage.
After relying upon various electric and acoustic guitars for the main portion of his show, Hunter sat down at the piano to play his encores. After a few quiet numbers, he raised the temperature significantly by pounding out “Just Another Night”. And after teasing the audience with a couple of plunked Chuck Berry-esque chords, he went straight into the rousing closer of “All The Way From Memphis”. Listening to this one song alone was a little like tracing back rock music’s history: This much-taken-for-granted style we call rock started with guys like Chuck Berry, before it was filtered through the glam-associated Mott The Hoople. And yet, it still sounds wonderfully lively in the hands of an experienced rock veteran, even here in 2005. Like Hunter, sturdy rock grooves stand the test of time.
It’s heartening to see Hunter still going strong after all these years. Especially when you consider that flash in the pan glam acts, such as the Bay City Rollers, are currently in the “Where Are They Now?” file. Hunter was truly the odd man out, an artist of substance in an otherwise superficial era. He’s not exactly a slick operator, and he isn’t blessed with the smoothest voice in the world. Yet he also cannot seem to sing a single lyrical line without injecting it with sincere, tangible emotion.
Granted, all the young dudes are old and gray dudes now. Still, Ian Hunter, God bless him, is continuing to carry the news.