I don’t mind admitting that I had to wipe a tear from my eye hearing Ian Hunter whisper, “a very long time ago…” It was the first thing he said to the packed house at Keswick Theater April 8, 2019 Of course, the line is taken from Don McLean’s “American Pie.” Yet just as Mott the Hoople twisted it his way in 1974, here, some 45 years later, Hunter whispered that iconic line in volume one before the entire band, including Mott ogs Ariel Bender and Morgan Fisher, suddenly goes up to volume 10 and propelled into a loud, bombastic and captivating version of “The Golden Age of Rock and Roll”. Just when this song was hailing ’50s rockers during Mott’s original run, now glam rock champions are using it to remind themselves. And throughout the extended one-hour-forty-five-minute show, they proved time and time again that they were in a golden age NOW because Mott the Hoople is still playing and playing really, really, really well.
Hunter, who is about to hit the big 8-0, was a supernatural force. In other words, he still has his curly blonde afro. He always rocks Roy Orbison shades. He’s still skinny as a rail and he still has that incredible swordsman style of dress. But, more importantly, he may be almost 80 years old, but he moves with the strength and grace of a man who is a third his age. And, most importantly, amazingly, he still sounds fantastic and his voice today has all the wonderful richness, depth, unpredictability and combustibility that it had in 1974. The man is a freak of nature.
The set taken from Mott the Hoople‘s latest album, and masterpiece, The Houple with the classics “Alice” and “Roll away the Stone” receiving fantastic treatments. “Stone”, in particular, with its multi-art build, found the band truly going from a drip to a flood as Hunter yelled “Roll awaaay the Stone!” Towards the end of the show, the band released one of their latest singles “Saturday Gigs”, and just as this track has a warm melancholy that turns into an uplifting joy, Hunter, Bender, Fisher and company were surprisingly able to not only reproduce these mixed emotions in the live atmosphere, but to amplify them in a fiery conclusion. That is to say, it was not a “greatest hit” run. It was a group generating that same deep, indescribable cosmic feeling that they first summoned in the early 70s, nearly half a decade later.
For their part, Bender and Fisher really added to the magic. On the one hand, it seemed like everyone was really having fun, with Fisher pranking Hunter off-mic between songs and everyone clowning around all over the stage. Mott is famous for his keyboard lines that often added a sort of full-steam Fats Domino bounce or ponderous majesty. Fisher flipped between the two throughout the night, giving the leads much more prominence. Ariel Bender, who played lead guitar on The Houple demonstrated over and over again that while true style can be copied, it can never be duplicated. Simply put, there’s a certain fire and reverence for the past in glam rock, and especially Mott’s tracks, and Bender, who was raised on blues and R&B, showed the packed house how architects of this style do.
The show ended with TWO encores, including a massive 11-song medley that included “Crash Street Kids” and “A whole lotta shakin’.” The final song was the band’s biggest single, “All the Young Dudes”, which of course was written by David Bowie. And just as that song reveled in a gentle soaring backed by crackling guitar distortion, the band underscored how dynamic they still are. Truly. For real. So few bands are able to summon that same electricity that set your mind on fire when you first heard it on the stereo at 16. Hunter, Fisher, Bender and all the rest are international treasures. But, unlike most treasures that sit there while you watch them, Mott the Hoople, whether in 1974 or 19, produces rock and roll that’s golden at any age. Drop your rump and go see this group. That’s rock and roll.