Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Ian Hunter at Rockefeller Park, NYC 6/24/09

“You goin’ to Poughkeepsie?” a paunchy, greyhaired guy in a Zappa tour shirt and jeans eagerly asked his somewhat more nattily attired friend reclining on a blanket in the wet grass. The friend grimaced as he made an attempt to shift his weary bones into a more comfortable position. The guy to their right had a Bowie shirt: the Sound & Vision Tour, 1990 (wait a minute – Sound & Vision was a 70s song!).

“It’s just like the Fillmore, ’73!” exclaimed another concertgoer into his cellphone, ratty ponytail swinging below what was left of his hair, his voice equal parts wonderment and self-deprecation.

But this was no nostalgia show. Ian Hunter and his five-piece backing unit the Rant Band went on a little late, without a soundcheck and transcended a dodgy sound mix, playing a fiery, anthemically melodic mix of mostly upbeat, smartly literate, glam-inflected four-on-the-floor rock. Most of the songs were more recent and were unequivocally excellent: Hunter has never written or sounded better. Kinda heartwarming to see a guy who’s pushing seventy at the peak of his artistic career. Hunter is something of an anomaly in rock, the former frontman of a generic 70s “hard rock” band whose solo career vastly surpasses any radio or arena rock success he might have enjoyed with Black Crowes foreshadowers Mott the Hoople. Decked out in his trademark shades, playing acoustic guitar (and piano on the set’s closing numbers), he was characteristically energetic and intense throughout his practically 90-minute battle with one technical difficulty after another. “There are women and children here, I can’t vent my spleen,” he snarled after the crew finally got his mic at the piano working.

They opened with the big anthem Once Bitten Twice Shy, just Hunter and the drums until the two electric guitars and the bass finally came in on the second chorus. Central Park and West, from Hunter’s underrated 1981 Short Back and Sides album (produced by Mick Jones) was warmly received as the chorus kicked in: “New York City’s the best!!!” By the time they launched into the gritty, backbeat-driven anthem Soul of America, a ridiculously catchy number that wouldn’t be out of place in the Willie Nile catalog, they’d finally gotten all the guitar issues ironed out. Big Mouth, from Hunter’s Shrunken Heads cd was a characteristically sardonic, urbane urban tale with a surprisingly ornate bridge, finally given some guitar firepower with a couple of ferocious twin solos. Then they took the volume up even further with the snidely riff-rocking 9/11 memorial song Twisted Steel.

Best song of the night was the title track from the forthcoming album Man Overboard, a wrenching, towering, anguished 6/8 ballad, a bitter chronicle of disappointments and a desperate need to escape. After that, the rest of the show could have been anticlimactic, but it wasn’t, the feeling of unease recurring in the potent anthem 23A Swan Hill: “There’s gotta be some way outta here, this can’t be life.” They also treated the crowd to one of the closest things Hunter’s had to a radio hit here, Just Another Night, and a Bowie-esque two-keyboard song building a Moonlight Sonata-ish ascending riff into hypnotic intensity. The last of the recent songs was a big, stomping riff-rocker, Out of the Running, also from the new album. They did some songs after that, but those were for the nostalgia crowd and were pretty tired. Most of the dark rockers of the 70s like Lou Reed may have gone off to “experimental” land or elsewhere, but Ian Hunter’s midnight oil still smokes and burns.

June 25, 2009 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10 Comments »

  1. Yeah, it was a great concert. I loved 23A Swan Hill, All the Way From Memphis, Once Bitten Twice Shy, and Thunderbuck Ram. Good times.

    Comment by Pepper | June 25, 2009 | Reply

  2. That “Going to Poughkeepsie?” guy was louder than any of the musicians on stage. Also: a minor correction: Ian is not pushing 70. Ian is 70, as of June 3. I give the band a huge dose of credit for playing through Spinal Tap-proportions of disasters. The guitarist’s amp kept shorting. The keyboardist arrived to find a gigantic puddle under his equipment. Ian’s keyboards had to be adjusted manually, for each and every song. The sound was generally awful, crackling, and distorted. But they soldiered on, and I’m glad I went.

    Comment by MD | June 26, 2009 | Reply

  3. great review. stop by my site if you want to see a bit of video from the ian hunter show at rockefeller park. i agree the technical problems were laughable – i’ve never seen a roadie try to hand a guy a guitar he didn’t want!

    Comment by John Rosenfelder | June 26, 2009 | Reply

  4. Yes, the frustration meter for the band was at times off the charts. But they were super. It was symbolic of how much of a survivor Ian Hunter has been in his 40+ year career. His output this decade has been as good as it has ever been.

    23A Swan Hill was terrific, and the way he segued so seamlessly into Angeline was masterful. Before the band played them Ian pointed out that some of his best songs are on albums that didn’t sell at all. How true.

    That hypnotically intense song you mention is called ‘Dead Man Walking’, a song he has publicly said he considers to be one of his very best.

    Comment by Neil Salzman | June 27, 2009 | Reply

  5. Ian! What a great show….I absolutely love the guy and as the lucid culturians have pointed out, he just keeps getting better. Pissing like hell til 6:15, I thought the show would be cancelled but Satan smiled upon us with sunshine and a cool breeze. No soundcheck, so they hadda start late which caused some schmuck standing behind me to heckle, “C’mon, this is supposed to be halfway over by now.” What an idiot…..great weather, a FREE outdoor Ian Hunter concert with the skyline behind him and this goof complains. I said, “What does it take to please you?” He harumphed and walked off. “Eastenders/Dead Man Walking” is the sonata LC mentions, a masterpiece. “23A Swan Hill” was my fav of the night. “Wash Us Away” was a catastrophe. I was trying to figger what was going wrong and the band was looking quizzically at each other with “who farted” expressions on their faces. After the song, the guitarist whispered something in the master’s ear. Ian then said, “I’ve just been informed by the band that I played the song in the key of G…sorry.”

    What a classic.

    Comment by Chris Giunta | June 27, 2009 | Reply

  6. I was looking for a complete, start to finish list of this set. I can almost piece it together from these posts, but between technical difficulties (due to the weather) and personal difficulties (due to beer consumption) I would rather trust someone else’s list.

    Comment by Mike G | June 29, 2009 | Reply

  7. I really enjoyed the show, great meeting Joe Elliott back stage. Here are a few of my snaps from the show. http://www.flickr.com/photos/rickedwardsnyc/

    Comment by RickEdwardsNYC | June 29, 2009 | Reply

  8. Mike, here’s what I have (some of these songs I wasn’t familiar with, not being a Mott fan)- maybe someone else can help fill in the blanks:

    Once Bitten Twice Shy
    Central Park & West
    Soul of America
    don’t know this one – Wash Us Away?
    Arms & Legs
    Big Mouth
    Twisted Steel
    Man Overboard
    Mott song? Roll Away the Stone? dunno
    23A Swan Hill
    Just Another Night
    Dead Man Walking
    Mott song – All the Way from Memphis?
    Ballad of Mott the Hoople?
    All the Young Dudes

    Comment by lc | June 29, 2009 | Reply

  9. Thanks LC. I will fill in the blanks and post soon. I think between the other comments and from being there it’s pretty close.

    Comment by Mike G | June 29, 2009 | Reply

  10. LC, you’re pretty close. Here’s the whole setlist:

    Once Bitten Twice Shy
    Central Park & West
    Soul of America
    Wash Us Away
    Arms & Legs
    Big Mouth (Words)
    Twisted Steel
    Man Overboard
    Roll Away the Stone
    23A Swan Hill
    Sweet Angeline
    Just Another Night
    Dead Man Walking
    Up and Running
    All the Way from Memphis

    Encores:
    Saturday Gigs
    All the Young Dudes

    Comment by Neil Salzman | June 29, 2009 | Reply


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