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Ian Hunter, The Bell House, Brooklyn, NY: Welcome to Babylon March 30, 2012

Posted by Anton A in British music, Ian Hunter.
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Ian Hunter & The Rant Band traveled to Brooklyn tonight.  I could not help but heed the call.

 

 

 

 

 

 

They always deliver a splendid performance; tonight they seemed tighter than ever, perhaps an effect of their recent recording sessions for Ian’s new album.  Whatever the reason, they made the trip from Jersey worthwhile.

 

 

I entered the club literally as they were breaking into the opening song, All American Alien Boy.  It was nonstop music from there for four songs with Ian at the keys before he said a word to the audience; the band was rolling like a speeding train and the crowd in the sold-out room loved it.  Ian & The Rant Band play rock & roll like it was meant to be played, to my ears.

 

The backing chorus for All The Young Dudes consisted of opener Graham Parker – I was sorry to have missed him due to tunnel traffic – Lisa Ronson, Tony Shanahan and Graham Maby.

 

 

 

 

 

The occasion for this special show was a sad one; it was a benefit for bassist Graham Maby, who recently lost his wife Mary to cancer and was left with a load of expenses.  Graham, from Joe Jackson’s band, played a tour with the Rant Band a few years ago when Paul Page couldn’t make it.

 

Ian has expressed his disapproval of publication of set lists when he is playing shows regularly; he feels that this removes the surprise factor for audiences who have yet to see his current set.  Normally I wouldn’t go against that wish.  However, in the middle of this show, Ian announced, “This is the last time we’re going to do some of these songs.  We’re going to wash them out.”  Presumably the set list will be shaken up and have songs from the new album the next time Ian goes on the road.  That being the case, I believe that the current set list should be preserved for the splendid construct it is, and I’m taking the liberty of setting it down in print.  I hope that he won’t mind.

All American Alien Boy, American Music, Just Another Night, Cleveland Rocks, Isolation, The Moon Upstairs, Once Bitten Twice Shy, Arms & Legs, Flowers, Alice, I Wish I Was Your Mother, Wash Us Away, When the Daylight Comes, Sweet Jane.

Encore: It Ain’t Easy When You Fall.

Second encore: Roll Away The Stone, All The Way From Memphis, Saturday Gigs, All The Young Dudes.

More photos can be found here.

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Ian Hunter in New York and New Jersey: It’s a bloody long way November 13, 2010

Posted by Anton A in British music, Ian Hunter.
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Of all the songwriters I’ve grown to admire over the years who are still giving inspiring performances and writing stirring new songs, only Bob Dylan has been at it longer than Ian Hunter. I’ve always felt a very personal connection to Ian’s words and music. Nobody can write lyrics about family, friends and lovers and pull on your heartstrings like Ian. Add his sense of humor, feeling for rock & roll bombast and gift for melody, and you’ve got a combination that for me is irresistible.

I’ve been a fan for forty years. In concert or on record, Ian can still nail your heart to the wall with one quick phrase. Let me try to explain. Yes, we’re in for another long ramble.

I became aware of Ian’s band, the legendary Mott The Hoople, in 1969. (Technically it wasn’t Ian’s band then, but it’s not my intent to write a detailed history here.)  The M.C. Escher image on the cover of their eponymous first album was a stroke of marketing genius; as the psychedelic Sixties were winding down, a lot of kids on college campuses bought the record just to have that mind-warping picture around. We weren’t really prepared for the album itself. It opened with an instrumental cover of the Kinks’ You Really Got Me; driven by Mick Ralphs’ crunching guitar sound, the rendition was blazing but made no conceptual sense as the first song on a debut album. An odd mixture of other cover tunes and originals followed. The singer, distinctively unlike most of his UK contemporaries, didn’t adopt an American accent; his voice was unmistakeably English. The effect was intriguing. A epic eleven-minute ballad, Half Moon Bay, featured haunting organ work from Verden Allen; the song had early flashes of Ian’s lyrical genius that would blossom so brilliantly in the years ahead. The standout track was Rock & Roll Queen, a catchy, driving song that made you want to hear more from this band.

I had only intermittent contact with Mott’s next three albums due to my peripatetic life then. Mad Shadows had two irresistibly driving rock songs in Thunderbuck Ram and Walking With A Mountain, plus another ballad, No Wheels To Ride, and the raw stream-of-consciousness song, When My Mind’s Gone, that made you know Ian was a songwriting talent to watch. The Wlidlife album was an excursion into Dylanesque territory; Ian could make himself sound like a British Dylan when he wanted. I didn’t quite know what to make of it; apparently most of the band’s fans didn’t either. A ballad from that album, Waterlow, was particularly haunting; looking back, I think it marked the first full expression of Ian’s genius at combining lyrical flow and melody.

I completely missed Brain Capers and lost track of the band for a year or so. I found them again in the fall of 1972, when I took a little trip to England. Mott’s fifth album, All The Young Dudes, with the Bowie-penned title track a hit single, had catapulted the band to stardom. They were all over the British musical press. More significant to me, there were Mott tunes on the pub jukeboxes where I was becoming a frequent patron. Ian’s voice was penetrating as ever, and Mick Ralphs had found one of the sweetest guitar tones in the business. Their sound at that point drew me right in; I repeatedly plinked my pence and shillings into the machines and sipped the fine English beer that I’d loved at first taste.

Mott would form the core of the soundtrack to my travels in the UK during the 1970s. I made four trips around the Scepter’d Isle in that decade. It seemed that Mott songs, and then a track from Ian’s first solo album, were always on the pub jukeboxes wherever I went – London, Wiltshire, Wales, Cumbria, Inverness. I spent many pleasant nights quaffing pints of bitter and feeding the jukeboxes. Sometimes my musical choices would lead to chance encounters and chats with other Mott fans. I knew I’d never see them again in this life but it was nice to have those fleeting connections.

To this day, an old Mott track can conjure up images of autumn-colored hills, back roads, ridge walks on the Lake District fells, damp misty nights, cozy pubs, the tastes and scents of Real Ale, and the faces of people I met more than thirty years ago. There’s magic in that music for me; it still runs through all of the solo work that Ian would create in the years to come.

(Fell-walking interlude: there’s a Verden Allen tune on the Dudes album with the chorus, “Walking on soft ground.” I’d heard the phrase for years, of course, but had never really walked on soft ground till I got up top a certain fell above Ambleside. Many Mott fans consider the song to be a minor work; for me it always brings back a bright afternoon on a fell summit, walking, almost bouncing along over a grassy, spongy surface that made me feel lighter than air. It’s the opposite of what the lyrics mean but the association is fixed in my mind. I’ve never found another place like that.)

May 1974 saw the fabled Broadway shows, five nights at New York’s Uris theatre, the only time I saw the band perform. Verden Allen and Mick Ralphs had already left the band by then. You could sense things continuing to fragment; Ian would leave the group at the end of the year.

Ian began his solo career, collaborating with Mick Ronson, who’d briefly been Mott’s guitarist at the end. I still view Ian’s first solo album as a high water mark for an artist setting out on his own after the band falls apart. That first tour brought Ian and band, including Ronno, to the Felt Forum in New York on May Day of 1975. I wish someone had filmed that show; it was one for the ages. The late glam outfits and platform boots were a hoot, but they didn’t stop Ronno from wailing on The Truth, The Whole Truth, Nothing But The Truth. That was a rock & roll moment I’ve never forgotten.

Let’s fast-forward through the next twenty-odd years, Ian’s work with a slew of fine musicians on various solo recordings and tours, his move to the U.S., his lifelong friendship with Mick Ronson who would pass from this world too soon at age 46. Ian continued to write and record great songs after that, even though he was no longer as prominent in the public eye as before. It’s telling that the only record label he could find for perhaps his best album from the 1990s, Artful Dodger, was in Norway. Dodger contains Ian’s achingly painful tribute to Ronno, Michael Picasso, and a wry yet heartfelt song about his own youth, 23A Swanhill. Both songs have been staples in Ian’s concerts ever since.

We’ll hit “Play” at the next significant date in my life, September 11, 2001. I worked in downtown Manhattan then, commuted through the World Trade Center and was perilously close to the horrifying events of that dreadful day. I was shell-shocked for several months after. An Ian Hunter show in The Village at the end of November, with a particularly timely performance of Central Park ‘n’ West, snapped me out of it and set me back on the road to sanity. You can read the full story here in my blog archives. I’ll never forget that moment either.

I followed Ian’s work through the first decade of this new century. He began working with a new group of musicians that became The Rant Band; they recorded three more superb solo albums. I caught Ian’s shows whenever I could. I enjoyed the way he interacts with his fans in the Horse’s Mouth section of his website. I knew that I was in for a treat when three area shows were announced for the second week in November even though the second night, out in Pennsylvania, was beyond my reach.

Thursday’s show at the Highline Ballroom in NYC was full-tilt electric. Ian switched up the setlist to include such rarities as Life After Death and Shallow Crystals. He gave us a glimpse of Mott’s glory days when he brought out the fabled Maltese Cross guitar. It’s not my favorite club when it’s packed, since the stage is low and visibility isn’t great, but the sound was good and the band was tight; the night crackled with electricity.

Saturday night at The Tabernacle in Mt. Tabor, NJ was very different. (I’d first visited this unique structure for last year’s Hot Tuna show.)

David Johansen opened the show, accompanied on acoustic guitar and high-hat by Brian Koonin. He kept the crowd engaged with a mixture of songs from throughout his long career and an old blues tune or two. His distinctive voice resounded in that remarkable concert space.

 

Ian and company dialed back the volume for the venue, with more acoustic instrumentation and softer electric sounds than usual. Ian changed the setlist again for this particular night, replacing some of his standard rockers with a generous dose of back-catalog rarities. The result was pure magic. The band found new nuances and subtleties in the arrangements; Ships, Man Overboard, Angel of 8th Ave, Wash Us Away, Boy, 23A Swanhill and Michael Picasso were stunning.

 

Waterlow was a particular highlight of the night; Andy Burton found some gorgeous synth textures to accompany the song.  Every word seemed to float in the air after Ian sang it.

 

 

I hung around the little Victorian square in front of the Tabernacle after the show, waiting in the cold misty air with a few other diehard fans, hoping to say hello and thanks to Ian in person, but it wasn’t to happen.

On my way out, I walked through the merchandise tent and did a double-take; yes, that was Ian’s longtime sideman and bandleader James Mastro helping to break down the table, putting away CDs, counting T-shirts and stuffing them into sacks. I asked how he’d gotten roped into that; he grinned and said that one of the usual merchandise guys was MIA that night so he’d been pressed into service. The glamorous life of a rocker! We had a brief chat; James was very affable and gracious. Would Ian have any other sort in his band? It was the perfect note to end a rare evening.

Ian Hunter, Finnigan’s Wake, Philadelphia, PA: Roll away the stone March 23, 2005

Posted by Anton A in British music, Ian Hunter.
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Here’s the official order of songs from Ian’s 2 hrs 15 mins set on 3/23 at Finnigan’s Wake in the North Liberties district in Philly.  I took notes as it happened, only way I can keep track of it all.

Rest In Peace
Lounge Lizard
Once Bitten
Twisted Steel
Girl from the North Country (1 verse) -> Death of a Nation
Knees of My Heart
Wash Us Away
23A Swanhill
I Wish I Was Your Mother
The Truth, The Whole Truth, Nothing But The Truth
Rollerball
Michael Picasso
Roll Away The Stone
Honaloochie Boogie
Saturday Gigs / All The Young Dudes

1st encore:

Medley: The Journey /  No Wheels / You Nearly Did Me In / I Can Feel / Dead Man Walking
Just Another Night
All The Way From Memphis

2nd encore:

Nightingale

The singer-songwriter who was the opening act sang backup on Dudes.  What was her name?  I liked her, had kind of a Sheryl Crow thing going on.

Spoke to an IH onliner at the bar when we got to the place right around 8:00, when it was seriously empty.  Surveyed the “buffet,” which proved to be bangers & mash.  Looked good, but way off my cardiac-friendly diet, just wasn’t gonna work.  We had our wristbands for re-entry, so we left & asked around & found a pizza / gyro place up the street.  Decent chicken souvlaki with a great Greek salad, good cheap food, hit the spot.  Quite a few other yellow wristbands in the place that night!  The good-humored waitress was running a bit frazzled, they hadn’t anticipated the Ian crowd.

Was hoping to run into more online folks when we got back in the middle of the opening act, but the place was starting to fill up & I didn’t see anyone else wearing the right sort of T-shirt.  Staked out a spot a few layers back from the stage.

Great show, superb sound, great room to see Ian play.  (Screw you BB King’s!!!)  Ian really nailed Death Of A Nation & Wash Us Away as noted, & Michael Picasso & so many others.  The band sounded terrific, Boschy (new guitarist Mark Bosch) is an excellent fit.  (I thought they made Honaloochie sound considerably better than it had at BBK’s, where it seemed a bit ragged.  Maybe the tune is finally starting to grow on Ian!)

I hadn’t heard Ian do Roll Away The Stone since the Ariel Bender days, that was a treat!

Folks in the crowd around us who didn’t know Ian’s solo work were asking me which albums Truth and 23A Swanhill came from, they were blown away by those two.  As were we, as always.

After the show, we went back up to the Spring Garden El station.  There was only one other person there, a black dude in a brown leather jacket who’d been at the show, said he was down right in front of James’ mike.  Had a great conversation with him about Woodstock (he was there, I wasn’t), the Broadway Mott shows (we were both there), & lots of other 1960s & 1970s rock.  Uriah Heep was one of his all-time faves, go figure! 

I was surprised, though, we were literally the only people there for 15 minutes before the train arrived.  Out of that whole crowd, were we the only 3 who took the train to get to Finnigan’s?  Everybody else drove there?  I guess it’s the American way.  And Philly ain’t New York City. 

Anyway, what a pleasant way that was to wind down another magical evening sparked by an Ian show.

Ian Hunter at B.B. King’s, NYC: Once bitten, almost twice shy December 12, 2004

Posted by Anton A in British music, Ian Hunter.
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Well the karma turned around 180 degrees at some point tonight. I was dithering all day about this show – yes I know that makes no sense, how can one dither about an Ian show? – but the awfulness of the crowd last year was really weighing on me. I let the opportunity to purchase a tik online slip away – not that I was thrilled with the notion of $15 in service charges on top of a $28 ticket. I just about abandoned the notion of going.

Then I remembered what that other guy that Soozie Tyrell plays with says – “Faith will be rewarded.” I decided to gobble an early dinner as if I were going to the show, then call the box office to see what the deal was & let fate take its course. Lo & behold, box office said “We’ve got plenty of tickets left, come on down!” So I did. Got there about 1/2 hour before Ian’s show time. Got to chat with a friend who I knew was at the show – he’d gotten there at 6:15 & was seated down front.

The club was well filled, but not nearly as crowded in the standing room areas as it was last year. Go figure. I’ve noticed the same trend at BOC’s annual shows there. Are the numbers of fans of these “classic” acts slowly dwindling, or are folks just getting fed up with the place?

Anyway, on with the show. It was a knockout. Started as usual this year:

RIP
Lounge Lizard
Once Bitten
Twisted Steel

Ian introduced Soozie, and then, since he had a night off from his regular gig, Andy York! Andy would stay out there with the band for the rest of the night, trading lead work with Jack The Mechanic & adding another solid brick to Ian’s Wall Of Sound for one special evening. Damn, that was a nice surprise!

Death of A Nation
Knees of My Heart
Wash Us Away
23A Swanhill
Resurrection Mary (Soozie came back for this one, just lovely)
Truth
Rollerball
Central Park ‘n’ West
Honaloochie Boogie –> Saturday Gigs –> Dudes (seamless transitions between these 3)

first encores:

Just Another Night
Medley: The Journey/No Wheels To Ride/You Nearly Did Me In/I Can Feel/Dead Man Walking/We Wish You A Merry Xmas
Memphis

second encores:

Nightingale (Soozie joins them again)
Cleveland Rocks

A solid 2 hours of great rock & roll. So happy I got there.

Ian’s regular band for this tour:

Steve Holley – Drums
James Mastro – Guitar
Jack Petruzzelli – Guitar
Graham Maby – Bass
Andy Burton – Keyboards

Ian Hunter at B.B. King’s, NYC: Not just another night March 1, 2004

Posted by Anton A in British music, Ian Hunter.
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110 minutes of magnificent music by my watch.

The band showed some first-night raggedness in some spots & was absolutely brilliant in many others. Normally I could give you more details but I didn’t have the acuity to keep track; considering the state of my health a week ago I was damn lucky just to be there at all.

This was my 4th trip to BBK’s & I have NEVER seen it that packed, almost unpleasantly so. We got there about 20 minutes before showtime & it was SRO, there was not a table to be had. Ian can still pack a club on a Monday night; I like that.

As always Ian more than amply repays any effort it takes to get to a show. Don’t miss this tour!

Here’s yer complete and accurate setlist (this time I took notes):

Once Bitten
American Spy
Twisted Steel
Wish I Was Your Mother
Knees of My Heart
Wash Us Away
Irene Wilde
Truth Whole Truth Nothing But The Truth
23A Swanhill
Rollerball
Standing In My Light
Just Another Night
Dead Man Walking
All The Way From Memphis
Cleveland Rocks

encores:
The Nightingale Sings In Berkeley Square
Michael Picasso
Saturday Gigs/All The Young Dudes

Ian Hunter, The Village Underground, NYC: New York City’s the best! November 30, 2001

Posted by Anton A in British music, Ian Hunter.
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What a New York night!  An evening extraordinarily rich in memories and emotions.  One of the best ever.

A week ago, en route to the Village Underground to buy tix for the Ian show, I’d stopped to read a restaurant menu at a place called Bella Pasta.  One of the waiters came out to chat with me, young guy, obviously had grown up in Italy, full of that Italian warmth & charm; I figured OK, this is the vibe, this is where we’ll have dinner before the show.

Tonight was unusually warm for the last day of November. Bella Pasta had the sidewalk tables out.; perfect.  We sat down to a delicious Italian meal, one door down from the corner of Bleecker & Carmine, less than a block from the apartment where I first lived in the City in the summer of 1971.  Across the street stands Our Lady of Pompeii, a wonderful Romanesque church where my wife had gone to Mass when she was at NYU in the ‘60s, years before we’d met.  The white façade and bell tower looming under skitting clouds & a full moon created a glorious atmosphere.   The occasional roar of a jet overhead made me flinch every time; I silently cursed the FAA for allowing flights over the City so soon.  Still, it was lovely to sit outdoors in the evening warmth and remember that this would always be my original New York neighborhood.

After dinner we strolled around the streets to smoke up before the show — the VU bills itself as a nonsmoking club, tho in reality people still indulge, but the club’s policy seems to prompt everyone to exercise restraint.

The Village Underground – what a venue.  The sound system puts every other club I’ve visited to shame.  With Ian & the band, you had 6 instruments and 4 voices.  Each element was crystal-clear and distinct for every second of the show; it was astounding.

The VU is relatively new, maybe a year old at this point, but the place has a history.  Its genesis came from the closing of Tramps, which for years was THE club for eclectic music in NYC. Tramps was an oddly shaped room with quirky acoustics; everyone from Gong to Steve Earle to John Entwistle to James Brown had played there.  The wizard who’d done all the bookings for Tramps took a year off but started missing the biz.  At that time, Gerde’s Folk City was going out of business. Folk City was a Village institution where many of the ‘60s folk artists got off the ground; a kid from Minnesota who’d taken the name Bob Dylan honed his chops there.  The Tramps guy hooked up with another fellow to lease the place & start a new club.  Their  plan was to build a state-of-the-art sound system and hope that the chance to play in a great room, along with the historic aura surrounding the site, would attract artists who ordinarily might not appear at such a tiny venue.  The plan seems to have worked; after tonight’s show, I’d go there to see anyone I’m remotely curious about because I know they’ll never sound better.

The club is actually in the basement; the room that was Folk City is now a nifty Village bar named The Fat Black Pussycat.  You buy your advance show tix there from the Tramps guy, who prints out your tickets from a small PC at the end of the bar.  Somehow seems like the right way to do it.

The show itself slides right into my Top 5 (don’t ask me what the other 4 are just now!).  Ian’s band seems every bit as good as I remember Mott and Hunter-Ronson at their peaks; they deliver every song so well, & with the astonishing sonic clarity in that room, it was a night that will live in my memory.

I confess I am far from objective with Ian; there are so many memories that go way back now.  Mott The Hoople & Ian’s first solo album were a major part of the soundtrack to our four trips to the UK in the 1970s.  Bicycling thru the Lake District & Scotland & Wales by day, it seemed like there was always an Ian tune playing in my head. At night I would scour the local pubs, looking for a jukebox with some Mott tracks…. At the time, it seemed like that was all I needed to find a certain kind of happiness.

I’ll post a full set list below. Some highlights: Ian opened with Once Bitten Twice Shy, & then Good Samaritan, Purgatory & American Spy from the new Rant album.  I was yelling for 23A Swanhill after every tune, & they got to it early, a great song on record that’s an even better live vehicle with this particular band, it ROCKS.  Chalk me up as delirious with glee at that point.

Somewhere in there was Boy, one of my faves from Ian’s first solo record back in 1975.  “Boy, take a turnpike heading West…”  Those words had always seemed to call to me, evoking memories of a cross-country drive to California with a friend in 1970.

Then there was Central Park ‘n’ West.  “If yer gonna be crazy, and live in the city, New York City’s the best.”  That line tore me up.  Talk about your epiphanies.  My love/hate relationship with NYC has been severely amplified since 9/11, as I guess is the case with many of us here.  The crowd really got into the song while Ian & the band rocked on it.  At the end, Ian shut the band down & we all sang the whole chorus one more time with the man a cappella, 350 voices singing their hearts out.  I think it’s the loudest I’ve ever sung in my  life.  It was an overwhelming moment; a lot of the love for the city that I’d lost touch with since September came flooding back into me right then.  I hope I can hang onto that feeling.

As  I expected, Ian sang Michael Picasso, dedicating it to George Harrison & his family.  It’s the most wrenching, emotionally raw & honest song about the death of a friend that I know.  If you don’t have a tear in your eye at the end of the first verse, you’re probably dead too.  Ian sang it beautifully, that first verse just him & his acoustic guitar, then the band chimed in with perfectly elegiac tones & textures. 

There were more rockers to get us jumping & stomping & lift our spirits, interspersed with ballads that keep you focused on the important things in this life – Just Another Night (which Ian intro’d by saying, “I’m getting a little tired of doing this one,  but the band plays it so well, I’m sure they’re gonna carry it, so we’ll do it one more time,” and he was not wrong), All the Way from Memphis, Cleveland Rocks, Irene Wilde, I Wish I Was Your Mother, Dudes… 

Such an exceptional show.  So resonant and full of emotion, so much excellent musicianship, for two full hours.  It was memorable to experience it with the love of my life by my side.

Here’s the full set list; the order of songs between the first four and the finale may be off —

Once Bitten Twice Shy
Good Samaritan
Purgatory
American Spy
23A Swanhill
Boy
Central Park ‘n’ West
I Wish I Was Your Mother
Angeline
Dead Man Walking
Michael Picasso
Just Another Night
Cleveland Rocks
All The Way From Memphis
Irene Wilde
Saturday Gigs/All The Young Dudes