Ian Hunter’s cavalier entrance was warmly acknowledged - the Midlands-bred singer-- songwriter stepped onto the intimate Old Town School stage without making a fuss; waltzing in as if he were part of the road crew, rather than a super star.

Ironically his early influences, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard, probably would have stomped on their pianos to demand equal affection, but Hunter already had the audience in the palm of his hand.

But then Hunter has had decades of stage experience to fall back on and there was absolutely no reason to put on airs. He wore a plaid, comfortable-looking, long-sleeved shirt and when he spoke he was warm, but succinct.

He has risen from the ranks, floating somewhere between the top of the heap and the indie artist, at times, unfailingly taking a realistic look at the business; mostly choosing artistic output over commercialism, and rediscovering himself each step of the way.

There was Billy Fury, the New Yardbirds, and his Mott the Hoople legacy; short lived, but bountiful, producing a quartet of albums and instigating a meaningful partnership between Hunter and lead guitarist, Mick Ronson, who sadly died in 1993, at 46, but was commiserated by his loyal friend and colleague in the wistful ‘Michael Picasso’.

“Once upon a time not so long ago/People used to stop and stare at the spider with the platinum hair/They thought you were immortal/We had our ups and downs like brothers.”

Mott the Hoople’s gigantic hit ‘All the Young Dudes’ was gift wrapped by David Bowie – Bowie had also submitted ‘Suffragette City’ to the band, but that offer had been refuted Oh, well, it all worked on in the end – but, Hunter probably is not too worried about a random song that didn’t make it on to one of this more than twenty albums, and tonight he pulled from quite a few of them.

Now in his 70s, physically rock solid, with his famed ringlets still intact, and legendary dark shades framing his fair skin, he immediately got down to business. Surrounded by gangly, melody-driven, fedora-sporting guitarists, he sprung into action; his ever scratchy voice hammering each note with passion.

After a homage to “lounge lizards”, he wrapped his harp holder around his neck, and sang ‘Words’ (Big Mouth)’, leaning back to allow the splendid, slide guitar to shine.

Unrequited love quickly followed suit as Hunter, in softer tones, murmured, “You are my illness, you are my disease.” The cynical, quasi-rant, yet gently flowing ‘Flowers’ was a good antidote for those stricken by heartache.

The buoyant lyric from ‘Ships’, “We walk to the sea/Just my father and me”, allowed great room for some smooth accordion solo. ‘Soul of America’ sounded straight from the heart; a litany of landmarks personified, but, still more lyrics would lure us into Hunter’s prolific world; for instance, “Blue broken tears/Isn’t nobody here/Lost in the sun/My pretty young one” was sung poignantly; ‘Waterlow’ hit a high mark.

More personalised anecdotes came to light when Hunter expressed his coming-of-age angst at growing up in Northampton. Prior to becoming a full-time musician in his late 20s, the younger man had engaged in a series of jobs; in factories and as a journalist his hard-working wealth of experience, and sometimes world-weary outlook became more startling as he recanted: “Rain, rain, rain/I’ve got to leave this town.”

More, great slide guitar oozed in and out of the lyrics when Hunter repeated: “Take the washing off the line” – another plug for the working class. His wit really came to fore, though, with ‘Girl from the Office’, a saucy, almost Cole Porter style ballad.

“Everybody says that the girl from the office is a little standoffish,” it begins. By the end the engaged audience snickered along as Hunter strummed along to a play-by-play description that brightly moved along the gossipy tale and instigated a sing-a-long.

One of the most spiritual songs was the upbeat ‘Wash Us Away’ where Ian as confessional narrator sermonizes “we wrote our names on the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

‘Sweet Jane’ received instantaneous applause before the driving, electric backing even got off the ground. Smartly his dynamic colleagues held back, at first, so Hunter could set up and recite, “Standing in the corner/Suitcase in my hand.”

But then the whole band exploded to flaunt the Velvet Underground cover’s earthy blues-infusion. They then made a quick get-a-way, but their abrupt departure would not pay off.

The near-packed house stood up, chanting and clapping loudly for several intense minutes before the band returned. Hunter sat down at an electric keyboard, hinting that he wasn’t exactly sure of the chords, but we never would have guessed this if he hadn’t confided in us.

When playing the beautiful ballad, ‘Somewhere’ from the Broadway musical, ‘West Side Story’, using simple chords, he exhibited an entirely different vocal quality than the rusty, Rod Stewart/John Lennon/Bob Dylan variety used during the majority of the other numbers.

And, as though he had read our minds, he actually played a Lennon favourite. ‘Isolation’ was a great vehicle for Hunter’s “been there, done that” set of pipes. As those familiar, two-chord keyboard changes rang out aggressively, Hunter seemed to recharge effortlessly. When he sang, “I don’t expect you to understand…” we got it.

Another cover, Ben E. King’s ‘Stand by Me’ was met with equal enthusiasm. But ‘All the Way to Memphis’ really kicked up the dirt; the song is an old favourite and would have been a perfect closer however…

The manic audience had no intention of going home without more entertainment. By this time, though, the band members might have harboured second thoughts back stage.

When they reappeared they looked like they had just mingled with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda. As they stood there, holding half-drunk, glasses of red wine, looking incredibly relaxed, they indicated, by eyeing their instruments, they were still anxious to please us.

‘Resurrection Mary’, Hunter’s midwestern response to the Loch Ness monster, has always had the makings of a classic. Bittersweetly sung, with plenty of room for reflection, it was one of the best numbers of the night.

And, this song, from the 1996 album, ‘The Artful Dodger’, specifically struck a chord with the locals.

The narrative recalls a Chicago area fable; allegedly blonde, blue-eyed Mary danced with her beau at a ballroom in Willow Springs, Illinois, and, after an argument, fled from him into the cold. As she walked along Archer Avenue, she was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver. She was buried in her stylish white dress and matching shoes at the nearby Resurrection Cemetery.

Through the years, Chicagoans have reported Resurrection Mary sightings; enough to inspire books, countless newspapers article and Hunter’s own take: “In 1935 I was living in paradise/I had a friend in Cicero/She said, ‘Please, please would you dignify my wish? I’m trying to get to Heaven. Could you tell me where that is?’”

The taunting bass fills of ‘Roll Away the Stone’ with superb, psychedelic guitar upped the ante.

There is always that tense moment, as an audience member, when you know you are at the mercy of the performer – will he or won’t he play the last song that we need, no, that we MUST hear, before we merrily go on our way….

Fortunately, our collective heart rates normalized rather quickly when Hunter and company placated our psyches and hearts; ‘All the Young Dudes’ had been eagerly anticipated and now we had our chance to mark our territory by singing along; which, of course, we did, perhaps proving that we, like Ian Hunter, view life as a glass half-full.

Photos by Jim Summaria www.jimsummariaphoto.com

















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Commenting On: Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, 25/9/2011 - Ian Hunter








ie London, England

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20332 Posted By: lisa (chicago)

Hi Annette,

Thanks for reading Pennyblackmusic and for your comments.
I'm glad to hear that Ian put on such a great show in Boston, too.

Lisa



20331 Posted By: Annette Geremia (Warwick Rhode Island, USA)

Wonderful review. I've just seen him in Boston and he was fantastic. I only have one small criticism on your review, you got the lyrics to Michael Picasso wrong. You wrote: "They thought you were a martyr". The actual lyric is "they thought you were immortal". I wish he were. Otherwise, well done!


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