Report: Ian Hunter Live In S.F.

Fabled Mott the Hoople frontman
wows Fillmore Auditorium crowd on Jan. 28., then drags doppelganger Scott
McCaughey onstage for “All The Young Dudes” finale. Pictured above:
Hunter w/McCaughey circa 1988. “Which twin has the Toni?”

 

By Jud
Cost / Photo by Marty Perez

I never
saw this coming. Ian Hunter, revered frontman for Mott the Hoople, one of the
great English bands from 40 years ago, rolled back the clock with a dynamite
two-hour set that grabbed a crowd of pensioners and youngsters by the scruff of
the neck and shook them till they screamed for mercy.

 

On the
surface, it seemed like a nice night out: Hear a handful of Mott classics and
some of Hunter’s fine solo stuff, then try to figure out where all the time
went. Hunter, now 71, had seemed pretty decent opening for the Zombies at the
Fillmore four years ago, but nothing like the dynamo we witnessed tonight.
Looking pretty much like he did when I first saw Mott the Hoople, opening for
Quicksilver Messenger Service at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West in 1970, Hunter
reeled off Jerry Lee Lewis-like piano flourishes tonight to back up that
deliciously craggy voice (eat your heart out, Robert Plant).

 

Scott
McCaughey, ringmaster of the Young Fresh Fellows and Minus 5, as well as the
utility infielder for R.E.M. and the Baseball Project, once volunteered over a
few brews that Mott was the template for Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols.
When it comes to Hunter and Mott, McCaughey knows his onions. He imported
Hunter’s look, wholesale – sunglasses after dark and a shaggy, curly mane – for
personal use, decades ago. McCaughey even played in a Mott cover band called
the Sandbaggers back in the ’70s while living in Santa Rosa,
Calif. before making history of his own with
the Fellows in Seattle.

 

Behind a
crack quartet Hunter calls the Rant Band, so sharp they removed all memories of
Mott the Hoople’s original lineup from the equation tonight, Hunter reeled off
a radiant set of numbers, including “Cleveland Rocks,” from his solo
career, songs that ranged from the confessional to the anthemic. They were a
good 70 minutes in before they even played a Mott tune, a heroic cover of the
Lou Reed/Velvet Underground classic, “Sweet Jane.”

 

If you
split right about then, thinking the old guy must be just about out of gas, it
was an unforgivable error. One thing Hunter knows better than anyone: how to
play a set’s dynamics like a Stradivarius. He kicked off the encore quietly
with just piano and synth for Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim’s achingly
beautiful “Somewhere” from West Side Story.

 

Then, to
the delight of longtime fans, Hunter cut loose with an earthshaking one-two
punch of Mott’s “Walkin’ With A Mountain” spliced to their epic
“Rock And Roll Queen.” Another solo gem, “Once Bitten Twice
Shy” led to a gloriously stomping “All the Way To Memphis.” But
Hunter was just getting started.

 

After
patrons helped dust the chandeliers with raucous boot (and cane) stomping,
Hunter returned to briefly reminisce about the first time Mott played S.F. The
band went guitar-shopping and scored a Maltese Cross electric in a pawn shop
for $75. “That guitar turned out to be crap,” admitted Hunter.
“I sold it for five quid when I was skint. It was nothing like the one I
got for my 70th birthday from Joe Elliott of Def Leppard. This one’s pretty
good.”

 

And he
knew how to use it, too. “Roll Away The Stone” sounded more like a
boulder being catapulted straight downhill. The heartwrenchingly
autobiographical “Saturday Gigs” followed (“’73 was a
jamboree/We were the dudes and the dudes were we/Did you see the suits and the
platform boots?”). And then there was nothing left to do but play the one
everyone came for, the ’72 Bowie-penned hit that capped Mott’s career in the
U.S., “All The Young Dudes.” As an added treat, Hunter called
McCaughey up onstage to strap on a guitar and sing along. It looked like a career-crowning
moment for the ecstatic Bay Area native.

 

“I
was already in hog heaven watching Ian’s incredible set,” said McCaughey,
afterwards. “I was in shock when they called me up to join in, completely
unexpected.” Fortunately, he added, John Barleycorn helped him find the
nerve. “I was still pretty nervous, being on stage with one of my heroes
to play such an iconic song: ‘All The Young Dudes.’ Kill me now, dude!”

 

Sure, it
would have been nice to hear a few more Mott jewels, like “I Wish I Was
Your Mother,” “Honaloochie Boogie” and especially “The
Ballad Of Mott The Hoople” (“Buffin lost his childlike dreams and
Mick lost his guitar/Verden grew a line or two and Overend is just a rock ‘n’
roll star”). But that might have been like having two really great steak
dinners. One, grilled to perfection, was plenty tonight.

 

 

 

 

 

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