Who knew what we were missing all these years?
Mott the Hoople, an influential, cult-loved Brit band from the golden age of glam-rock, performed only once in the Twin Cities – in 1971, opening for Emerson, Lake & Palmer at the old Guthrie Theater.
That booking was a musical mismatch, a premature date before Mott found success with the David Bowie-penned “All the Young Dudes” in ‘72 and then did their final U.S. tour in ’74.
Mott the Hoople ’74 – the lineup from Mott 2.0 plus some new sidemen – has reunited for an eight-city U.S. tour before a series of shows in Europe. Boy, we were lucky to be on the itinerary.
Mott’s performance Tuesday night at jam-packed First Avenue was an unexpected thrill. Who could imagine that a rock singer, two months shy of 80, and his band of grizzled veterans could play with such vigor, swagger and spirit. This was one of the most exciting rock ‘n’ roll shows in a club in recent memory.
As Ian Hunter delivered vaguely Dylanesque lyrics with a raspy Rod Stewart voice, images of other musical heroes emerged. There was a bit of Bowiesque theatricality, Queen-like genre blending and lots of Stonesian guitar and honking saxophone.
Ultimately, though, imagine Bruce Springsteen with a sore throat fronting the care-free Faces in their heyday. If that sounds like your idea of a joyous rock ‘n’ roll party, this certainly was. And top it off with the cheeky humor of hammy guitarist Ariel Bender.
“You’re too kind,” the serviceable axman kept telling the enthusiastic crowd after songs when he wasn’t asking “did we pass the audition?”
Bender replaced cofounding guitarist Mick Ralphs, who left to start Bad Company, in ’73. Pianist Morgan Fisher, the other surviving musician who toured with Mott in ’74, was also on board this time, along with members of the Rant Band, Hunter’s usual backup band.
The 95-minute concert ostensibly tried to recreate Mott’s “Live” album from 1974, the deluxe version that is.
Sporting his trademark dark glasses and blondish curls, Hunter started the evening by singing a bit of Don McLean’s “American Pie,” the 1971 hit, and when he got to the line about “the day the music died,” he stopped and asked, “Or did it?” Then Mott swiftly swung into its piano-propelled celebration “The Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
Not only was it a clever and ebullient way to start the show in 1974, but the juxtaposition of those two tunes took on new meaning more than four decades later.
Mott ’74 spent the rest of the night proving that the music did not die. Their set list consisted of singles and deep tracks along with a couple of covers.
The guitar-heavy band revved up “Sweet Jane,” the Lou Reed classic they’d recorded, and Hunter recast Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” as a slowed-down, minor-key blues. Other noteworthy quieter moments included “Rest in Peace” featuring Fisher’s graceful piano and “Pearl ‘n’ Roy (England)” spotlighting James Mastro’s mandolin.
But Mott will rock you, and that they did. With Hunter joining the electric guitar assault, “Walking with a Mountain” was blistering. The sax-spiked “All the Way from Memphis” was jubilant. Guided by Bender’s nifty slide guitar, “Marionette” was part Bowie, part Stones and all elation.
And there was a six-song medley with such tunes as “One of the Boys,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Queen” and “Violence.” For the last number, Hunter prudently altered the lyric from “violence, violence, it’s the only thing that will make you see sense” to “violence, violence, doesn’t make any sense.”
During the medley, Mott sprinkled in some riffs from the Kinks, Bad Company and Chuck Berry and even a hint of Hunter’s own 1979 solo hit “Cleveland Rocks,” by chanting “Minneapolis rocks” over and over.
The encore brought “Saturday Gigs,” sort of an autobiography of the ups and downs of the band, and the song that made Mott famous, “All the Young Dudes,” which turned into a giant sing-along.
Hunter, a slender man in skinny jeans and an acid-wash polo shirt, belies his age. A bit business-like and not overly talkative (except when he mock-flirted, as he often does, with a fan during “Dudes”), he nonetheless couldn’t conceal his glee in playing this music from his golden age.
When he and Bender roared at the same microphone with the abandon of two teens just hatching their rock dreams, it reminded us all – no matter our age – the exhilaration, liberation and complete joy that great rock ‘n’ roll brings.