Let’s get something straight — singer Ian Hunter is 79 years old. That’s older than heart patient Mick Jagger, and older than Bob Dylan too. Not that you’d have noticed when Mott the Hoople ’74 took the stage at the Chicago Theater Wednesday night. Hunter, surrounded by his current Mott compatriots, stood tall and played loud and proud, celebrating the final incarnation of his old band that had broken up nearly a half-century ago.
While the last reunion of Mott’s original line-up occurred in 2009, and another effort without drummer Dale Griffin reprised in 2013, this current ensemble showcased two latter-era Mott veterans, keyboardist Morgan Fisher and guitarist Ariel Bender — hence the very specific date appended to the group name now — and rounded out by Hunter’s longstanding backing group, the Rant Band. But with two of the original Mott members now deceased and guitarist Mick Ralphs too unwell to participate, it is now clearly up to Ian Hunter to decide what is Mott, and what is not.
With the band playing only a handful of gigs in the U.S., anticipation ran high and nostalgia ran deep for this tour. Luckily, nostalgia has always been stock in trade for Hunter, as evidenced by the show’s opener. Following their traditional airing of “Jupiter” from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” Hunter began with a portion of Don McLean’s “American Pie” before segueing into “The Golden Age of Rock ‘N’ Roll,” exactly like he did on Mott’s swan song of a live album in 1974.
Ian Hunter’s singing voice has aged well over the years, and the classic nature of his songwriting has ensured a solid durability to most of his ’70s material. Almost all of the songs performed in Chicago were drawn from the band’s final three studio albums, “All the Young Dudes,” “Mott” and “The Hoople.” That era was Mott during their most commercial, glam-infused phase, after David Bowie had lent the band his fairy-dust support and fan-like enthusiasm.
The talents of Mott ringers Morgan Fisher and Ariel Bender didn’t go to waste. Fisher’s piano intro to Hunter’s ballad “Rest in Peace” was stately and beautiful, while Ariel Bender’s gonzo guitar heroics before a pummeling “Walking With a Mountain” injected a bit of danger into an otherwise straightforward rock show. Still, this was Ian Hunter’s sonic agenda, and the singer seemed intent on cramming in as much Mott music as possible, eschewing stage patter and pushing the group forward from ballads to rockers, mixing up old favorites and lesser-known album tracks to illustrate the power and versatility of this particular rock ‘n’ roll band.
High points included Hunter’s haunting, mandolin-based composition, “I Wish I Was Your Mother“ and the rollicking “All the Way From Memphis,” as well as beloved British hits like “Roll Away the Stone.” By the time the band had launched into Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” the crowd was ecstatic, standing and singing along. That song was first performed by Mott the Hoople on the “All the Young Dudes” album, which was produced by David Bowie in 1972, but with Reed and Bowie both gone, Hunter now officially owns this tune.
In Mott’s early days, they were known for their ferocious live performances and the distinct possibility that things might just get out of control. Their show-closing rock ‘n’ roll rave-outs were the stuff of legend, and in a nod to those glory days the band rose to the occasion with a raucous medley that included “One of the Boys,” “Crash Street Kidds,” Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Violence” before ending with a pounding sing-along of “Chicago Rocks” (in lieu of Cleveland).
With the band clearly exhausted, the encore was somewhat brief. “We’re old, we’re sick, and we’re off after this…” Hunter exclaimed. Hauling out yet another UK fave, “Saturday Gigs,” before concluding with the much anticipated Bowie tune, “All the Young Dudes,” Ian Hunter and Mott the Hoople ’74 left the stage with the audience clamoring for more. Of course, Mott or no, Ian Hunter has been on his own personal victory lap for years, singing these songs all over the world. Catch him while you can, with Mott or upon the resumption of his regular touring regimen. Did we mention he’s 79 years old?