Ian Hunter Band featuring Mick Ronson – Live at Rockpalast

January 01, 1970

(MIG
Music)

 

www.mig-music-shop.com

 

In the
absence of legitimate contemporary rock ‘n’ roll heroes, a sort of “cult
of personality” has grown up around a number of admittedly eccentric
1960s-and-70s-era musicians. From Nick Lowe and Robyn Hitchcock to Todd
Rundgren and other aging rockers raised in the long shadows of the second World
War, the digital era has been kinder to them than most, prompting a rediscovery of their early, acclaimed work by
a younger audience, extending their careers long past the ostensible commercial
“sell by” date. In many instances, it has enabled these artists to
grow old with dignity and grace, allowing them to deliver some of the best
music of their lives in the 21st century.

 

Of all of
these fellow travelers, Ian Hunter is the oldest and, perhaps, the most
iconoclastic. A late arrival to U.K. glam-rock cult faves Mott the Hoople,
Hunter quickly took over the band’s creative reigns and became its best-known
member. (Don’t think so? Quick, name another Mott member other than Hunter or guitarist
Mick Ralphs…) Hunter’s often-snarky, Dylan-inspired wordplay and the band’s
guitar-heavy hard-rock sound would earn them a modicum of fame, if little
fortune, and by the mid-1970s, realizing that the party was coming to a close, Hunter
jumped the Mott ship for a solo career, taking former David Bowie/Lou Reed
guitarist, and recent band addition Mick Ronson with him.

 

Although a
direct line can be drawn from Mott the Hoople to the intelligent punk-rock of
the Clash and the less-intellectual, but admittedly more commercially successful
pseudo-metal of Def Leppard, it is Ian Hunter’s sporadic solo career that has
influenced a generation of British, as well as a lesser number of American musicians.
Beginning with his self-titled 1975 debut, which yielded the classic “Once
Bitten Twice Shy,” through the end of the decade and a handful of albums
culminating in 1979’s You’re Never Alone
With A Schizophrenic
, which entered “Just Another Night” and
“Cleveland Rocks” to the rock ‘n’ roll lexicon, Hunter wrote a
musical legacy that continues to resonate loudly even in recent works like
2007’s Shrunken Heads and 2009’s Man Overboard.

 

In April 1980,
reunited with his friend and longtime musical foil Ronson (management problems
having kept the two madmen apart for
several years), Hunter performed for the popular German TV show Rockpalast. Translating, roughly, as
“Rock Palace,” the program has been broadcast since 1974, airing
performances from, literally, hundreds of rock, blues, jazz, and other artists.
Video clips from the TV show have been a staple of YouTube since the dawn of
that website, but only within the last couple of years has Germany’s MIG Music
made a number of full-length performances available on CD and DVD.

 

Hunter’s 1980
Rockpalast performance, prominently
featuring guitarist Ronson, stands as a true gem among an eclectic and varied
catalog offered by MIG Music. Fronting a band that included Ronson, bassist
Martin Briley, a pair of keyboard players, and a drummer, Hunter rips through a
baker’s dozen of songs from both his solo albums as well as his tenure with
Mott the Hoople.  Performing in front of
an enthusiastic German audience at the large Grugahalle arena in Essen, Germany,
the first half of Live At Rockpalast mimics the tracklist, if not the actual performances, found on Hunter’s 1980
live release Welcome To The Club. The
album-opening instrumental “F.B.I.” is effectively a raucous band
intro fueled by Ronson’s wiry fretwork and a driving rhythm that leads
straightaway into “Once Bitten Twice Shy,” the hoary hard-rock
chestnut stripped down here, provided a slight boogie-rock framework with
Hunter’s wry vocals dancing atop a sparse arrangement that explodes into a full-blown
rock ‘n’ roll cyclone.

 

The
beautifully lovestruck “Angeline” (a/k/a “Sweet Angeline,”
from Brain Capers) is the first of
several Mott the Hoople treasures recreated here, the song’s simple,
slightly-twangy construction reminiscent of Nick Lowe’s Brinsley Schwartz,
Hunter’s passionate vocals rising above a cacophony of chiming guitars and
cascading drumbeats. A pair of beloved tunes from that band’s breakthrough 1973
album Mott are provided similar
reverence, the wistful “I Wish I Was Your Mother” benefiting from
Ronson’s elegant guitarplay and Hunter’s haunting, weary vocals while the
up-tempo “All The Way From Memphis” displays all the reckless abandon
and joyful banter of the original.

 

Of
Hunter’s modest solo hits, “Cleveland Rocks” may be better-known than
“Just Another Night” due to its use as the theme of The Drew Carey Show for several years, performed
there by the Presidents of the United States of America (remember
“Lump”?). Hunter’s version kicks ass, hands down, the singer
declaring the city one of the birthplaces of rock ‘n’ roll and then kicking out
the jams with a high-octane performance that is over-the-top delicious in its
unbridled energy. Hunter’s vocals ride a wave of distorted guitars and crashing
rhythms, feedback creeping in at the edges as the singer delivers the lyrics
with a punkish sneer and a sly grin. “Just Another Night” ain’t
chopped liver, though…Hunter’s swaggering vocals sit comfortably within a
blanket of sound, keyboards tinkling above a sweaty, grinding dancefloor
rhythm.

 

Live At Rockpalast includes performances
of several of Hunter’s lesser-known songs as well as an intriguing cover of the
obscure mid-1960s Sonny Bono single “Laugh At Me.” A spry pop-rock tune
with an undeniable melody, vocal harmonies, edgy guitarwork, and period-perfect
alienated teen lyrics, Hunter and crew crank up the pathos and turn up the amps
and deliver a riveting performance. “We Gotta Get Out Of Here”
debuted on Welcome To The Club and,
sadly, wouldn’t be reprised on any later studio albums. Here the song is a
hard-rocking sledgehammer with an infectious chorus, scraps of honky-tonk
piano, tense guitar, bashed cymbals, gang vocals, and an overall crescendo of
chaotic instrumentation.

 

The set,
somewhat appropriately, closes with the Mott hit “All The Young
Dudes” and Ronson’s “Slaughter On 10th Avenue.” The former,
handed to the band by the album’s producer David Bowie, is played
embarrassingly straight. Ronson’s guitar mimics perfectly Mick Ralph’s original
rakish note-picking, and Hunter’s vocals sound every bit as punkish in 1980 as
they did in 1972. The upbeat “Dudes” leads right into Ronson’s
languid instrumental; taken from the guitarist’s 1974 solo album by that name,
the song starts out slow and jazzy and builds to an enormously satisfying
finish.

 

Ian Hunter
and Mick Ronson would more or less carry on their musical collaboration until
Ronson’s untimely death in 1993, frequently touring throughout the early 1980s as
the Hunter Ronson Band of which, sadly, only bootleg recordings seem to exist.
When Hunter went on hiatus during the latter half of the 1980s, Ronson
continued to record and produce, touring with Dylan and working with artists as
diverse as Morrissey, Meatloaf, Roger McGuinn, and John Mellencamp, among
others. The two friends would reunite for Hunter’s 1990 album YUI Orta, and performed together one
last time in 1992 during a tribute to Queen’s Freddie Mercury that would be
documented on Ronson’s posthumous solo album Heaven and Hull.

 

For a
couple of nights in Germany
in 1980, however, both artists were at the top of their game, and Live At Rockpalast captures the magic that was Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson
together.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Cleveland
Rocks,” “All The Young Dudes,” “Laugh At Me” REV.
KEITH A. GORDON     

 

 

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