Glam Rock Idols Mott The Hoople, bring back 1974’s Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll to London’s O2 Shepherds Bush Empire
There’s a discernible buzz in the air at The Shepherds Bush Empire tonight, the second sell-out night at the venue and last date on 70s Glam Rockers Mott The Hoople’s UK Reunion tour. After very positive reports on the previous nights of the tour and this, being their last date of six UK and eight US dates, all to sold-out crowds, expectations are running high.
Mott The Hoople enjoy a massive reputation as one of the foremost glam rock bands of the 1970s, even though they only ruled the charts from 1972–1974, after their 1972 release of “All The Young Dudes” as a single, which became a massive hit and glam rock anthem, launching the band into the spotlight. In 1973, original members, Verden Allen and Mick Ralphs left the band, replaced by Morgan Fisher on keyboards and Luther “Aerial” Bender Grosvenor on guitar. After UK chart hits with Honaloochie Boogie, “All The Way To Memphis” and “Roll Away in The Stone”, this was the line-up to embark on a successful UK/ US tour in 1974, supported by a new young band named Queen. Indeed, Mott The Hoople is famed as being the only band Queen ever supported. Their Live album, recorded in Hammersmith and Broadway during the tour, was released on their return.
The previous highly successful reunion tours in 2009 and 2013 had been with the original five members of the 1969-1973. In 2009, the two dates announced at the Hammersmith Odeon had sold out so quickly, that a third, and then a further two dates were added. Unfortunately, drummer Dale ‘Buffin’ Griffin suffered poor health at the time and was replaced by his friend, The Pretenders’ drummer, Martin Chambers for the show with Buffin only able to sit in for the encores.
Sadly, Dale Griffin died in 2016 and Pete “Overend” Watts a year later. Without the original rhythm section, Mick Ralphs still recovering from a stroke in 2016, and Verden Allen now retired, there had been calls for a short run of special shows, a reunion of the 1974 UK/US tour line-up. Hence the use of the Mott The Hoople ’74 moniker, with a setlist based around the ’73 and ’74 All The Young Dudes, Mott and The Hoople albums, plus the non-album greatest hits forming the core of the 74 Live album.
The venue is already packed to capacity as the support band, young Bristol-based quartet, Tax The Heat, kick off the night for their 45 minute set with an upbeat taster of “On The Run” from their new album. It is not surprising that Ian Hunter has personally picked these boys to open, with frontman Alex Veale’s past mention in interviews of the influence of David Bowie in their recent songwriting, having listened intently to Bowie’s work following his death. This has proved a big inspiration in the writing of their sophomore album ‘Change Your Position’.
It is clear that many, in the mostly male crowd of a certain age, are seeing the band for the first time. The paradox of Tax The Heat is the slick, razor-sharp suits of the band members contrasted against their gutsy, hard-edged bluesy rock. Whilst their musicianship and lyrics may be as sharp as their attire, don’t be fooled; these boys rock as hard, if not harder than the next band.
The boys power through their set, with tracks from both their new and debut albums, full of high energy, quirky riffs and pumped up, melodic choruses such as to the title track from the latest album “Change Your Position”. It’s the perfect song to get all singing and tapping along, full of funk and driven by Antonio Angotti’s infectious and fuzzy, riff-laden, bass groove. All the while, Jack Taylor on drums is a machine, big smile, animated and full of energy, playing loose with flailing arms, reminiscent of Animal from The Muppets in the most wonderful way, yet oh so tight with that hard driving beat. JP Jacyshyn delivers blistering slide guitar licks and quirky power riffs whilst Alex is the ultimate frontman, energetic on stage, vocally strong, adept at engaging in banter with the crowd and more than capable of a mean, wailing guitar solo himself. The band is a perfect example of synchronicity.
The enthusiasm of the crowd is steadily growing by the time “Highway Home”, a perfect tune to sing along to, is followed by the beautiful ballad, “The Last Time”, slowing the pace midway through the, up until then, high energy set, and a nod to the David Bowie influence in their latest album. All four members of the band contribute to the stunning harmonies in this song, yet there is no let up in the intensity and power of the delivery.
Their music defies any pigeonhole; old school rhythm and blues are dragged into the 21st century. Whilst still addressing their musical influences, they have broken out of the mould to develop a unique, individual and authentic sound. With lyrics that are punchy, and catchy melodies, full of superb hooks, they have an innovative approach to songwriting, which results in an exciting complexity of sound and rhythm, with unpredictable beats and unexpected changes in tempo, plenty to catch you out. It’s hard to think of any other band, current or past, which sounds like Tax The Heat.
Tax The Heat have already been much in demand as support for bands such as Europe, on their Final Countdown tour in 2016, Black Star Riders, Aerosmith, and Thunder, building a loyal following in their wake.
There has to be a big future for a band so fresh and different from the others, for those looking for something original and more contemporary. Their fine musicianship, intelligent and thought-provoking lyrics must surely stand them in good stead as a headline band. From the comments and cheering at the end of an outstanding set tonight, Tax The Heat could well be the band to break through the age barrier of current rock audiences, capturing the older rock audience as well as the younger crowd.
The nicely warmed crowd is now excitedly awaiting the return of their glam rock idols. The simple, understated stage set, a background large letter ‘M’ in 70s Art Deco revival, reminiscent of Biba fashion and lit by colour changing disco lights, stirs memories of Mott The Hoople’s heyday on Top Of The Pops.
Leaving us in no doubt that this was about to be a nostalgic trip back to the 70s, the show opens to the intro of Holst’s’ Jupiter from The Planets, as featured on their 30th anniversary Live ’74 album edition, as Ian Hunter with original bandmates, Morgan Fisher and Aerial Bender, stroll onto the stage to huge applause from the packed out venue. Continuing the theme, Hunter kicks off with a segment of Don McLean’s “American Pie” before it segues into the stomping “The Golden Age of Rock ‘N’ Roll,” with a guitar solo extraordinaire from the eccentrically lovable and theatrical Aerial Bender, to the cheers of the ecstatic crowd.
Members of Ian Hunter’s regular solo project backing band, The Rant Band complete the band, comprising ex-Wings’ Steve Holley (drums), multi-instrumentalist James Mastro (tenor saxophone, mandolin), Mark Bosch (guitar), Paul Page (bass), and Dennis Dibrizzi (keyboards).
Hunter, wearing his trademark shades and still endowed with an abundance of curly hair, albeit now grey, exudes rock pedigree, still looking fit and youthful. Treating us to classics from the ’73/’74 studio albums, including “Lounge Lizard”, “Marionette,” “Honaloochie Boogie”, and “Roll Away the Stone”, during which Joe Elliot of Def Leppard, to the delight of the crowd, takes to the stage for an amusing cameo to speak the girlie parts. Hunter reminds us it “was the biggest selling song we ever had”.
As one crowd-pleaser follows the next, older men bounce along and sing, at times with tears in their eyes, as Hunter and his band demonstrate the power of rock and roll, regaling us with the strength and quality of his vocals, which have aged extremely well, and his boundless energy and seductive swagger on stage. Hunter has certainly not lost his edge and we have to question whether this dude really is just one month short of his 80th birthday.
Their version of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” from the All The Young Dudes album is glorious, Mastro delighting us with his sax playing, just as he had for “Alice” and with his hauntingly beautiful mandolin accompaniment to Hunter’s contemplative composition, “I Wish I Was Your Mother.”
Fisher’s piano contributions to “Marionette” and the beautifully poignant ballad “Rose” are stunning, adding depth to the dramatic sound of both songs, whilst Hunter’s vocal delivery demonstrates his versatility, rocking out one moment and then tenderly singing with deep emotion the next. He is clearly on superb form, able to belt out the hits, one after the next, with the same gusto and panache he had all those years ago. This is not just a night of nostalgia, with the music sounding as fresh today as it did then, and songs such as Pearl ‘N’ Roy, a song about economic crisis, still resonating today.
The crowd goes silent, hypnotised by Fisher’s beautiful and evocative piano intro from Bach’s Prelude No. 1 in C Major to “Rest In Peace”, from the Live album of ’74. There aren’t many dry eyes in the house whilst Hunter’s sincere but strong voice sings poignant lyrics which, perhaps now that we are so much older and more mature, having seen many loved ones pass, mean so much more to us now than they did back in ‘74.
The lengthy live medley from the Mott Live album ends the set, faithfully recreated as original violinist Graham Preskett joins the band on stage. Their rock ‘n’ roll rave-outs to close their shows are legendary, and as a reminder of those glory days, the band serve up a raucous medley of Rock’n’Roll classics from “Rock n Roll Queen”, “Crash Street Kids,” Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” “Mean Woman Blues”, to Johnny B Goode & “Violence”.
Having yet to play their classics, All The Way From Memphis and All The Young Dudes, we know an encore is imminent and it doesn’t take too much hand clapping or shouting for the band to return to the stage. Our enthusiasm is irrepressible as we hear the first bars of Fisher’s instantly recognisable piano intro to “All The Way From Memphis”. We are all bouncing and singing along, our thoughts (if not our bodies) back in ’74, reliving our teenage years. The excitement and singing continue with Saturday Gigs, most appropriate with this being a Saturday gig. A magical and intoxicating night ends with the cherry on the top of the Martini – one of the greatest and rousing rock anthems of all time, “All The Young Dudes”, penned by David Bowie for Mott The Hoople in 1972, and the song which launched the band to fame. Joe Elliot and the members of Tax The Heat join the band on stage for a grand finale sing-along, with the thousands of us in the venue providing the backing vocals.
Tonight, Mott The Hoople have proved themselves the epitome of a Rock ’n’ Roll band. They may no longer be young dudes but they certainly show they can give many of today’s younger rock bands a run for their money, not just in quality, but also in stamina. They are living proof of the truth of the old adage of never being too old to Rock ’n’ Roll. Most of us here tonight may no longer look or move like young dudes, but we’re all still young dudes at heart.
45 years after release of these albums, tonight has shown the longevity of Hunter’s poetic and evocative lyrics and music, so it is perhaps worth repeating the words of the 2018 review from our own Adam Kennedy of National Rock Review in which he describes Ian Hunter as “the epitome of rock and roll cool, and one of the great singer-songwriters of our time.” Ramblin’ Man Fair 2018 Highlights.
Event Date: 27-April-2019