Sunday night at the City Winery Boston, a new venue that opened December 2017, Ian Hunter’s Rant band wrapped up the two night stand in this classy environment. Comfortable, low-key blue light rains softly over the dinner tables creating what has to be one of the great atmospheres for entertainment in this six-state region.
The charging sounds opened the show at 7:08 pm with the band mostly dressed in black (the exception being a stray red shirt on one of the guitarists) and Ian Hunter rocking’ like a man in his twenties or thirties, as timeless as Peter Noone, and continuing to spread his gospel to we who have been attending his concerts since the early 1970s.
It’s an interesting thing reviewing a concert in the 2018 age of YouTube where video clips from previous concerts proliferate. At an Ian Anderson solo-from-Tull concert a few years back, Ian had mentioned in the interview prior to the show that he didn’t like the audience taping him…the first notes of Aqualung had a sea of cellphones in the air rather than the cigarettes we witnessed in the 70s and 80s, and this critic’s thinking “Anderson’s worst nightmare!”
Without getting a “refresher course” from these clandestine videos on the web, one has to rely on the memory of a fun night of rock and roll, and his (or her) notes…the experience as a whole rather than the single song or two. However, I shall try to reconstruct my recollection of Sunday at the City Winery Boston, so here we go!
On this night Ian Hunter performed mostly his solo material from the multitude of solo discs. Interesting that for me the music from the newest, Fingers Crossed, stood out, especially the title track, Ghosts and the sublime “Dandy,” Backstage I noted to Ian that “Dandy” is a perfect tribute song, tucking in pieces of David Bowie song titles and life events without becoming tacky or maudlin. Indeed, it feels as if it is a Bowie/Hunter co-write, created in the style of La David, the intro guitar lick almost an inverted and truncated inspiration from the Mick Ralphs / Mick Ronson magic of the All the Young Dudes opening sequence. A constant reconfiguration on such masterpieces as “Honoloochie Boogie” and “Roll Away the Stone” were welcome treats on the albums Mott and The Hoople, respectively.
The opening guitar riff on “When I’m President,” though, is totally unique and this particular tune is fast becoming my favorite all-time Hunter composition (along with “Dandy” now,) music that is masterful, memorable, entertaining and extraordinary in a world where radio has gone haywire; radio which is supposed to spread the gospel instead is carefully constructed with 200 songs that zombies, not listeners, expect to hear when they get into their car to go to or come home from work. Freeeeebird and Sweet Home Night Moves be damned, would you rather hear boring old Eagles for the nine millionth time or Ian singing “Welcome to the Pit and the Pendulum…I’m gonna lean on the 1 percent when I’m President…”
Live the tunes reflected their respective recordings (When I’m President CD title track, August 2012; “Dandy” from Fingers Crossed, September 2016) and that’s thanks to Hunter’s creativity and wise choices in musicianship. It’s amazing that these legendary performers backing up Ian Hunter are not often mentioned in reviews… “One Take Steve” Holley has toured with Hunter on and off since 1987, having met the Mott the Hoople frontman in 1978. Dennis DiBrizzi has appeared playing keyboards on Genya Ravan recordings, bassist Paul Page performs with Holly in their project, the Sidney Green Street Band, while James Mastro and Mark Bosch team up with Ian for a three-prong guitar attack when Hunter isn’t doubling on keyboards with DiBrizzi.
It’s notable because as The Wrecking Crew and the Section are achieving the fame they deserve years later, Janis Joplin’s Full Tilt Boogie Band and the Lou Reed/Alice Cooper Rock n Roll Animal Band (with Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner) getting their props as well, the Rant Band has yet to be noted for their reliability and enormous skills. Perhaps an Ian Hunter documentary in the future can bring the entire project full circle to the world consciousness which needs to know!
The Rant Band 2018 is in great form, and so is Hunter, notes from the concert scribbled on a small piece of paper the establishment offered me, along with both sides of two lengthy menus the amiable waiter handed me. (In fact, the help at City Winery Boston are all beneficial and polite to everyone, which is the way it should be. ) Trying to decipher the rock journalist’s own handwriting like interpreting/transcribing hieroglyphics …oh, what the heck, I’m not going to sit here and go bonkers attempting to inadvertently mix metaphors by finding Just Another Night or Man Overboard suddenly merged in the Star Trek transporter beam with Rosemary-Pecorino Truffle Fries at seven bucks a pop or the lovely Pavlova which is City Winery’s meringue with compressed apples and vanilla sox mix (also 7 bucks, thank you very much.)
Ian Hunter is one of the last great rock stars, and he gave those in attendance nearly two hours (one hour, fifty minutes) of non-stop performance which is most difficult past forty years of age…for lesser men, that is.
“Sweet Jane,” from the All The Young Dudes album, is wonderfully back in the set as a bookend sort of tribute to composer Lou Reed in the same fashion as “Dandy” is the nod to Bowie. Lou, Iggy, and the Stooges, Mott the Hoople – the bands we adored from the 60s and 70s (Mott and Iggy emerging circa 1969, the Velvet Underground a few years before that) – were loved by their cult of listeners; Bowie in the 1970s changed all that and brought the music to the forefront that was as much the genius of Bowie/Mick Ronson as it was David’s skills as a songwriter.
Ghosts” from Fingers Crossed was riveting…especially in the light of the loss of Reed, Bowie, Mott bassist Overand Watts, Mott drummer Buffin, Mick Ronson, our heroes from the days of what they called “Glam” rock but which was actually the second coming of Psychedelia, at least in my mind.
“All the Way to Memphis” and “All the Young Dudes” proving essential as part of the encore/closing act. Yes, you can watch ’em all on YouTube now or download the live albums from Amazon, but the Rant Band live and in concert at the City Winery in Chicago, New York, and Boston is an exquisite experience, a beautiful new venue, a reliable band of rockers that know how to entertain.*
*Not since the days of the Jazz Workshop and Paul’s Mall has the region had a nightspot like this. City Winery Boston is even better than those two iconic old rooms!
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com, Gatehouse Media, Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, and a variety of other media outlets. Joe also produces and hosts Visual Radio, a seventeen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed Jodie Foster, director/screenwriter David Koepp, Michael Moore, John Cena, comics/actors Margaret Cho, Gilbert Gottfried, Gallagher, musicians Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, political commentator Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.