Of Mott the Hoople, ex-frontman Ian Hunter once remarked: “That band could have been the biggest band that ever was. It was all ass-backwards—it didn’t make sense. We had success after we had given up.” While Hunter’s assessment of Mott’s unrealized potential might border on wishful hyperbole, his account of the band’s trajectory is accurate.
Mott the Hoople’s career lasted five short years (1969-1974), with significant commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic evading the group until the release of its fifth album, All the Young Dudes, which came after the band had broken up and reformed.
Their time in the spotlight may have been fleeting but Mott the Hoople’s legacy has continued to resonate over the years as members of bands as diverse as Oasis, Kiss, REM, Blur, Mötley Crüe, Primal Scream and Queen have, at one time or another, acknowledged the influence of Ian Hunter, Mick Ralphs and company.
Mott the Hoople’s 1971 album Brain Capers has been called a blueprint for British punk and 1973’s Mott—alongside contemporary releases by David Bowie and Marc Bolan—was a reference point for many of the ‘90s indie renderings of glam rock. In forms ranging from the sublime (the Clash and the Sex Pistols) to the not so sublime (Def Leppard) and to the blatantly ridiculous (Spacehog), the sound and spirit of Mott the Hoople endure.
Although it could be argued that the quality of their studio recordings was inconsistent—running the gamut from stale pub rock to timeless classic rock—in concert Mott the Hoople rarely failed to impress and, a quarter of a century after their demise, they’re still lauded by critics as one of rock’s strongest live acts. The evidence gathered on the present CD supports such recognition and stands as a testament to the sheer energy of the band in performance.
The material on Live Dudes derives from two concerts: one at the Konserthuset in Stockholm in February 1971 and the other at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia in November 1972. It was between these two gigs that Mott the Hoople had initially thrown in the towel owing to the lack of success of their first four releases on Island Records. As Rock Trivia item #304 goes, David Bowie talked the members of Mott into sticking together, gave them the song “All the Young Dudes” to jump-start their career, hooked them up with his management company, MainMan, and produced their “comeback” album, All the Young Dudes. Subsequently, Mott the Hoople embarked on the most commercially rewarding phase of their career.
While the Philadelphia show provides the bulk of the material on Live Dudes, a couple of the songs played by Mott at that gig have been omitted (“Jerkin’ Crocus” and “Ready for Love”) and the sequence of the tracks has been rearranged. So thanks to some nifty editing, once a youthful sounding David Bowie has introduced the band, the concert then begins in medias res with Mott’s version of “Sweet Jane” (which was not in fact played until mid-way through the set).
Although the Philadelphia concert includes renditions of more introspective, down-tempo fare such as “Sea Diver” and the poignant “Hymn for the Dudes”, which center on Hunter’s vocal performance, much of the set is given over to the self-assured, guitar-driven rock and roll that showcases a band at the height of its powers. Particularly noteworthy are “One of the Boys” and “Sucker”, which saw the group venturing into the realm of glam, a direction that would declare itself more fully on 1973’s Mott and—following the departure of Mick Ralphs—on 1974’s The Hoople. The high point of the set, however, is the anthemic “All the Young Dudes”, for which Bowie joins the band on-stage adding a distinctive vocal element to the track.
On the otherwise outstanding “Sweet Angeline” from Brain Capers there’s a moment of cringe-inducing interaction with the crowd (courtesy of Ian Hunter) concerning the, ahem, ladies. And, in addition to overstaying its welcome somewhat, the raucous cover of “Honky Tonk Women” is marred by its incorporation of some communal singing, complete with solo audience cameos immortalized for posterity in all their horror. OK, a good time was clearly had by all and the chemistry between Mott and their audience is plain to hear, but during these fleeting instants the proceedings lapse into Spinal Tap-dom and sound embarrassingly dated.
While you can hear the synergy between a band and its fans on the Tower Theater recording, the Stockholm concert appears to have been taped in a mortuary or, at best, in a retirement home. Despite Mott’s best efforts and ironic jabs at the crowd (“Ah, you’re very exciting and kind. Thank you!”) there’s a complete absence of atmosphere and each song is met with a smattering of incongruously polite applause.
Nevertheless, the Stockholm set—documenting a less extravagant and brash version of the band—doesn’t suffer from the lack of reaction and Mott turn in tight renderings of Sonny Bono’s “Laugh at Me” (from their 1969 eponymous debut) and “The Original Mixed-Up Kid” from 1971’s Wildlife. The standout cuts are “Walkin’ With a Mountain” and “Thunderbuck Ram” from Mad Shadows (1970), which unleash the full force of Mick Ralphs’ guitar onslaught.
As an addendum, potential buyers might be interested to know that the material on this CD already has quite a history. Recordings of both concerts have been available for some time on various bootlegs. The best packaging of the Tower Theater performance can be found on the unofficial Japanese CD All David’s Dudes and the Swedish gig is featured on the legendary Long Red bootleg. In 1999, the two concerts were finally released officially on the double CD All the Way from Stockholm to Philadelphia. The Philadelphia concert (plus one track from the show in Sweden) was re-packaged this year on Greatest Hits Live and, on top of that, All the Way from Stockholm to Philadelphia is about to be re-issued as A Tale of Two Cities.
Clearly then, if you’re a completist, Live Dudes has your name on it. If you’re not an incorrigible Mott the Hoople archivist and you’ve already got All the Way from Stockholm to Philadelphia, the present CD is superfluous and you’d be better off saving your money for the forthcoming Ian Hunter solo album, which is apparently due out in April 2001.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/mottthehoople-live/