Everyone has that old friend: someone who used to be a big part of your life, helping you get through the tough times and celebrate the good times, but over the years you’ve lost touch. Lately, probably through social media, you’ve reconnected. Facebook postings, emails, the occasional phone call, maybe a visit once or twice a year. It will never be what it once was, but you’re glad they’re part of your life.
Ian Hunter, flashing a smile at the Teragram Ballroom, 12September17
Ian Hunter is like that old friend. The two Mott the Hoople shows I saw growing up (at the Felt Forum and during their Uris Theater run) were stunning and inclusive. Where Bowie and bands such as the Stones seemed otherworldly, Hunter embraced his fans. He was a little older, but willing to show you the ropes—like your father’s cool friend, or that hip professor. He understood what it meant to be a fan in the way many of his contemporaries didn’t.
And it was great to see him last night at the Teragram Ballroom (the best-sounding room in Los Angeles, thanks to another old pal, Robin Danar). Some of the old stories are brought out for another run—sure, you know how they go, and if some of the details have faded away, that’s fine. There’s also some catching up to do, new stories to be told. If they’re not as memorable or dramatic as the old ones, that’s fine. You’re just happy to see him looking and sounding so good at 78.
It took a few songs for Hunter and the Rant Band to find their feet. The first two or three were plagued by equipment problems, which seemed to throw everyone off their game. By the time they leaned into “When I’m President,” Hunter and the Rant Band were back in business. The years have scuffed up his voice a bit, which shortens the distance he needs to travel in order to sound Dylan-ish (“Just Another Night” and “All American Alien Boy” could be outtakes from Planet Waves and Street Legal, respectively.)
Ian Hunter (right) and, beneath the hat, Johnny Depp—auditioning, apparently, for the lead in “The Jack White Story.”
He’s also self-aware enough to joke about the problems of being a legacy act. “You do a new song, and the punters all wonder, ‘what’s he on about now’,” he joked after playing “Dandy,” his tribute to Bowie (from last year’s Fingers Crossed), “if you play the old ones, and the record company complains ‘he’s playing the same old shit’.” After pausing for the knowing laugh, he broke into a big grin, and added “well, here’s some of the same old shit,” before launching into a rollicking “The Truth, The Whole Truth, And Nuthin’ But The Truth.” Compared to the old Mott favorites, that’s a relative newcomer. And the new material is good. A song like “Ghosts” is exactly what you want to hear from an septeganian rocker: an elegiac dream, which could also describe re-listening the music you grew up with. “The turntable spinning ’round/Put the needle down,” he pleads.
This is as good a place as any to bring up just how fine the Rant Band sounds. Jim Mastro and Mark Bosch continue Hunter’s streak of playing with great guitarists (Johnny Depp, who joined the band for a few songs, perhaps not. He does try and look the part, in all black and a lit cigarette dangling from his lip.) Steve Holley, formerly of Wings, is behind the drum kit.
So, who cares if Hunter flubbed the lyrics to the first verse of “All The Way From Memphis”? He shrugged it off, knowing “you climb up the mountains and fall down the holes.” This might not have been an evening that goes down in the book, but it warmed the soul. At the end of the encore (his cover of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane,” then “All The Young Dudes” sliding into “Goodnight, Irene”), he saluted the crowd, bidding the audience goodnight and, ever the trouper, reminding them to come again.
I’ll be there. That’s what friends do.