David Fricke’s choices: Mott the Hoople box set, “Live at Raul’s”


A group that you thought you knew; an American city of rock & roll with a past that may surprise you: these two reissues come from different countries and eras – Great Britain just before the glitter; a Texas where punk was just beginning – with the same fire and the same attitude.

Mott the Hoople, Mental Train: The Island Years 1969-1971 (Island / Universal)
For a group that lasted just over five years, British hard rockers Mott the Hoople managed to slip into two golden ages: the one everyone knows, which debuted in the summer of 1972 when David Bowie gave them a 45 rpm lifeline with the revolutionary glam-hymn “All Young Guys”; and one that too few people know, a fury of progressive rock ideas, a clenched app and the vocal attack of English working-class Dylan by Ian Hunter on four albums during the difficult three years covered by this box.

Named and produced by whimsical studio scholar Guy Stevens, the original Mott – guitarist Mick Ralphs, organist Verden Allen, bassist Overend Watts, drummer Dale “Buffin” Griffin and Hunter, the latest to join the piano and on guitar – made bright trouble, harnessing the leap and innocence of early rock & roll debuts with the exotic afterburning of psychedelia and the looming strength of metal on the late 1969 British debut Mott the hoop and the rapid follow-up to 1970 Crazy shadows. As lead writers, often in collaboration, Hunter and Ralph combined muscular menace and tonic melodism, endowed with a machine room that was both tense and relentless. Some of the tracks from this period were broadcast on FM radio in America: the serial explosions of “Thunderbuck Ram” on Crazy shadows; The brilliant memories of Ralphs touring the United States “Whiskey Women” over the years 1971. Wildlife; the dark side of the hippie era that Hunter brought to Youngbloods’ ‘Darkness Darkness’ in ’71 Brain capers. The ones that weren’t broadcast are still amazing: the rush of the Stones brawlers from “Walking With a Mountain” on Crazy shadows; the wild and fast-paced joy in “The Moon Upstairs” on Brain capers with its immortal lines, “We don’t bleed you / We feed you / But you’re too slow.” The New York punks dictators used to cover live – no wonder.

The over two hours of live and studio bonus that has enriched this revealing tale from the very beginning (a fragment of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”, Hunter’s audition piece when he first sang for the others in 1969) until the first versions of the songs they carried to their resurrection triggered by Bowie – “One of the Boys”, a prototype of “Mommy’s Little Jewel”, both with a more formative growl. On the eve of what Hunter claims is the final Mott tour – with surviving members of his glam ’74 gang, guitarist Ariel Bender and pianist Morgan Fisher – it’s worth taking a step back from this incisive and brilliantly detonated chaos. . . The best rock & roll stories have glorious endings. Here’s one with a roaring and lasting start.


Various artists, Living with Raul (Steadyboy)
Raul’s was open for quick business in Austin, TX – CBGB with a Lone Star sled at a pocket bar near the University of Texas campus – when I had the opportunity to visit in late 1979 I was in town to cover a bizarre New Wave event: Blondie performing on the University of Toronto football field for a scene from the 1980 rock daffy movie Roadie (with Meat Loaf as the main character). The real buzz was at Raul’s that night. Roky Erickson, vocal shaman of the local psychedelic icons of the 13th Floor Elevators, was running a strange court (he asked me if I had my ticket for the ride to Mars, leaving soon). And I’m almost 100% certain that the band on stage that night was the Explosives, a trendy trio who practically lived at Raul’s.

Like CBGB, Raul’s released a live album touting the avant-garde of his town’s punk scene, recorded in one day – September 16, 1979 – and released in time for me to purchase one on that trip. But where Live at CBGB was missing from most of the bands that made him famous, Living with Raul – reissued on vinyl by Explosives drummer Freddy Krc’s label to mark his 40th birthday – surprised Austin to a rough, jubilant high. The Explosives would become Erickson’s backing group as he emerged as second flower, after years of acid damage. And the Skunks were local garage pop stars with a reputation that led Patti Smith and Elvis Costello to join them on stage when those stars passed through Austin. (Over the next decade, guitarist Jon Dee Graham joined another glorious guitar army, the True Believers, with Alejandro Escovedo.)

It also makes noise: glam-ish thugs the Next, nervous trio Terminal Minds and Standing Waves, a Blondie-style keyboard quintet. You hear a more innocent time and place in these performances – when punk was still revenge, not a fad, and keeping Austin weird wasn’t a problem. Forty years after my initial purchase Living with Raul, this city is still there.


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