The Unexpected Return of Mott the Hoople

MottMott the Hoople always seemed the kind of band that would implode at any moment, and such was the case when they pulled into New York in the middle of their 1974 U.S. tour, becoming the first rock band to play a week on Broadway.

That achievement didn’t pay off for the band (any more than introducing Queen to open their shows that year did). And by the end of the year, they were done.

Now, apropos of nothing but a random 45th anniversary of the album they had out at the time, The Hoople, the band is back playing the U.S. for the first time since then. Only eight stops were scheduled for the beloved glam band – the connective tissue between T-Rex and the New York Dolls; Who among the 1,300 at the 1928-era, 1,300-capacity Keswick Theatre in Glenside, Pa., near Philadelphia Monday would have expected this great good fortune, to see this storied band once more in 2019?

Mott the Hoople had reunited famously only once, a decade ago, for a couple of shows at London’s Hammersmith Apollo. That one featured the earlier version of the band whose names were memorable from being part of the lyrics of its “Ballad of Mott the Hoople” — Verden Allen, Mick Ralphs, Overend Watts, Dale ‘Buffin’ Griffin.

That lineup didn’t include two who were part of the 74 Broadway stint (and the subsequent live album issued that year), ex-Spooky Tooth guitarist Ariel Bender and pianist Morgan Fisher.

But the two were on hand for the 2019 touring band officially being called Mott the Hoople ’74, adding quite a lot, with Fisher doing a lot of tuneful musical introductions to some songs (including a teasing approach to “All the Way from Memphis”), and Bender taking off on some extended solos (although going bare-chested at 72 may not be the greatest idea).

Once more it was fronted by the ageless Ian Hunter who rounded out the group with members of his own Rant Band, which includes James Mastro of the Bongos on guitar, sax and mandolin, and ex-Wings drummer Steve Holley on drums.

It was an awesome eight-piece that made up for the impossibility of reuniting the previous edition of Mott — Buffin died in 2016 at 67; Watts died the following year at 69. Ralphs, who suffered a stroke in 2016, was hospitalized again earlier this year.

And true to the ’74 band, they played a set that seemed very close to what they played at the time. Indeed, except for all the old dudes in the audience, who hadn’t escaped nearly half a century of age as well as the band’s front man, it was almost like time travel.

The first voice heard at the top of the set (following a good opening campaign by the reunited Dream Syndicate) was none other than David Bowie, in a recording endorsing the band he saved from extinction by giving them his “All the Young Dudes” and producing the album of the same name.

And there was Hunter, still in blonde curls and shades, looking nothing like his age of 79, starting in on the then-three-year-old song with which he unexpectedly started Mott shows then: “American Pie.”

He began quite sincerely Don McLean’s hit about Buddy Holly and his widowed bride until the line about the day the music died.

“Or did it?” he interrupted, before the band tore into “The Golden Age of Rock ’n’ Roll,” a song that didn’t so much celebrate the past (then less than 20 years before) as prop up the original inspirations as alive in the moment. “Gotta stay young, you can never grow old,” Hunter sang out, his voice as authentic a rasp as it was in the day.

The hits from “Mott” were there, from the undeniable “Honaloochie Boogie” and “All the Way to Memphis” to the endearing “I Wish I Was Your Mother” with mandolin. There was the Lou Reed cover Bowie encouraged them to do (and they did a fine job of it, then and now), “Sweet Jane” and the back to back elemental rockers “Walking with a Mountain” and “Roll Away the Stone.”

But they dug deep from the past for things like “Alice” and “Rose,” and the Mott song of the same period that Hunter ended up keeping for his own solo debut, “Lounge Lizard.”

As they did all those years ago on Broadway, they saved two handfuls of rockers, their own and covers, for a raucous finale they called “Medley,” starting with their own “Jerkin Crocus” shifting to their instrumental Kinks cover of “You Really Got Me,” over to their “One of the Boys” “Rock ’n’ Roll Queen” and near-punk of “Crash Street Kidds.”

That made way for all kind of ‘50s dabbling, from Ray Charles’ “Mean Woman Blues,” to Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” — Hunter reminded the crowd he had seen Buddy Holly and Sam Cooke in ’57, as if serving as a conduit for the entirety of rock ’n’ roll from the beginnings until today.

They closed by following a bit of their own “Violence” with the one song that was outside the time period, a variation of Hunter’s 1979 “Cleveland Rocks” to also include every other stop on the truncated tour so far: Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Detroit, Chicago and Detroit before landing on Philly, where, 45 years earlier, they played the Merriam (then known as the Shubert).  (The tour concluded following dates in Boston and New York).

Mott the Hoople was one of the most self-referential of bands and were already looking back at their ups and downs in one of their final ballads recorded,  “(Do You Remember) Saturday Gigs,” a musical question they answered, “We do, we do,” as the mid point of a three-song encore.

Of course it closed with “All the Young Dudes,” in which the crowd, too old to stand for much of the show, certainly did for this timeless anthem, if only to pretend once more that they were.

The setlist for Mott the Hoople ’74 Monday was:

  • “American Pie” / “The Golden Age of Rock ’N’ Roll”
  • “Lounge Lizard”
  • “Alice”
  • “Honaloochie Boogie”
  • “Rest in Peace”
  • “I Wish I Was Your Mother”
  • “Pearl ’n’ Roy (England)”
  • “Sucker”
  • “Sweet Jane”
  • “Rose”
  • “Walking with a Mountain”
  • “Roll Away the Stone”
  • “Marionette”
  • Medley: “Jerkin Crocus” / “You Really Got Me” / ”One of the Boys” / “Rock and Roll Queen” / “Crash Street Kidds” / “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Goin’ On” / “Mean Woman Blues” / “Johnny B. Goode” / “Violence” / “Philadelphia Rocks”
  • “All the Way from Memphis”
  • “(Do You Remember) The Saturday Gigs”
  • “All the Young Dudes”
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