wed 23/04/2014

Mott The Hoople, Hammersmith Odeon | New music reviews, news & interviews

Mott The Hoople, Hammersmith Odeon

Who needs TV when we've got Mott the Hoople?

If Bowie, Bolan, and Roxy Music were the shimmering glam triumvirate of early 1970s British pop, then what were Mott the Hoople? Surely they don’t belong with the likes of the Sweet, Suzi Quatro and… er… Gary Glitter. In fact with their R&B and rock 'n' roll roots they’ve more in common with some of the decade’s more credible rockers such as the Faces or even the New York Dolls. It was in their ragged swagger and the stylised arrogance that vocalist Ian Hunter projected while implicitly inviting every teenager in the land to join his gang rather than that bacofoil-clad impostor’s gang.

But I confess to having mixed feelings about the prospect of listening to the now 70-year-old Ian Hunter singing about chasing some cat to bed. Yes, the Bowie-penned anthem for a generation "All the Young Dudes" may be the most perfectly poised hymn to youthful narcissism and hedonistic sexuality ever written, but a band cannot live on one hit alone, and how will a mostly hits-hungry audience respond to what is reportedly a two-hour set containing – inevitably – many more obscure numbers than chorus-rich chart toppers?

Perhaps an hour into the show, an audience member shouts out a request for "Honaloochie Boogie". Hunter immediately fires back, "You’ll have to wait for that. You’ve got to listen to all this other crap first." He then begins to strum another self-referential ballad in the Dylan mould, clearly confident that nobody here really minds, and that this is a crowd that, apart from a few youngsters, knows all these old tunes as well as he does.

Hunter’s early-Seventies autobiography Diary of a Rock 'n' Roll Star cemented his reputation as the generic rock star. He was a groupie-devouring, hotel-trashing, mirror shade-wearing archetype, part Roger Daltrey and part Marc Bolan. Yet he was neither as histrionic as Daltrey nor as faux-posh camp as Bolan, so seemed perfectly designed to fill a gap in the market. But today Hunter’s leonine mop is somewhat diminished, looking more like a small silver cloud above his gigantic shades. However his voice is still surprisingly powerful. He also handles the Hammersmith audience with the same laddish confidence he must have handled a Croydon pub crowd all those years ago. There is no sign whatsoever that he might be flagging, despite the fact this is the fifth night in a six-night run.

Lou Reed’s "Sweet Jane" is the first really familiar tune of the evening and the band better their studio version by only crashing in with that classic guitar riff during the choruses and just letting Verden Allen’s subtle keyboard part carry the verses.Meanwhile guitarist Mick Ralphs delivers reliable chunks of distorted rhythm guitar throughout, as well as handling those soaring Mott solos, and the Pretenders’ drummer, Martin Chambers, is a reliable stand-in for original drummer Dale "Buffin" Griffen.

The band are eventually joined by six backing vocalists who include amongst them Hunter’s son and daughter, and perhaps most touchingly, the daughter of the late great Mott guitarist Mick Ronson. Finally a rather frail but happy Buffin, clearly moved by the fact that the audience is chanting his name, settles down behind a second drum kit, and it’s time to deliver that classic string of hits.

As "All the Way From Memphis" crunched to a close, Hunter shouts out, "That’s yer lot!" But nobody is fooled: they still haven’t played that song. But the audience eventually indulges the band with some massed foot stomping, and a majestic "ll the Young Dudes" follows. Although a perfectly competent pub rock workout of Little Richard’s "I Hear You Knockin’"comes next, the evening has already ended on the best high possible, so it was time to go home.

Read Robert Sandall's feature on the Mott reunion here

There is no sign whatsoever that he might be flagging, despite the fact this is the fifth night in a six-night run

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Comments

I like your categorization of Hunter as the working man's answer to the glam rock gods of the day -- though I wouldn’t slag off the Sweet or even the craven Gary Glitter, who made some brilliant singles, after all. And yes, Hunter may now be slightly less hirsute but he was no way diminished as a performer. I flew back to the UK from the States to see the last two nights in London, and it was everything I’d hoped. Well, except no Midnight Lady.

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