Ian Hunter, Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby
Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014
Photo by David Klein
All the not-so-young dudes: Ian Hunter
When I attended my first Ian Hunter concert in October 1979, the former frontman of Mott the Hoople was riding high. He’d recently released You’re Never Alone With a Schizophrenic
, a canny amalgamation of three-chord boogie, New Wave crunch and knee-buckling emotional balladry that had given him his biggest solo success since leaving Mott the Hoople five years earlier. My memory of Hunter presiding over the Capitol Theatre that night in Passaic, N.J., with his signature black shades, corona of curls and silver sunburst Les Paul has barely dimmed. So I’ll admit that the prospect of seeing him play in a midsize club, 35 years after the fact, had me both excited and slightly hedging my bets. How good could it possibly be? Was I in for a nostalgia trip? Would it rock?
I had nothing to fear. Hunter led his supremely capable five-piece Rant Band through a generous set that mixed material from his almost 40 years as solo act with a handful of crucial baubles from the golden age of glam. The set list leaned heavier on songs from his '90s and ’00s catalog than one might have expected, but the moments of Hoople were thunderously good, including a searing “Sweet Jane,” its serpentine guitar hook rendered in all its glory by Hunter’s longtime ax man Mark Bosch. But really, it was all good stuff. Strapping on a harmonica and an acoustic guitar to deliver the Springsteen-reminiscent “Flowers,” from 2009’s Man Overboard
, or pounding out bawdy, saloon-style keyboard on the Mott staple “All the Way From Memphis,” the man was in his element.
Hunter’s voice is pretty easy to recognize. It's rich in character, mostly unfettered by technique. Its charms and strengths are undiminished by the years. Whether in a rousing half-shout or speak-singing in the vein of his early hero Bob Dylan, Hunter knows how to get everything he can out of his charmingly patchy pipes.
With decades of accumulated wisdom in the subtle science of songwriting, Hunter moves effortlessly from defiance to introspection to pathos. Though a cheeky cynicism marks many of his lyrics, Hunter frequently lays his heart bare. “Michael Picasso,” a tribute to his late, great collaborator Mick Ronson, was one of the evening’s most stirring moments.
Hunter’s trademark black shades remained in place throughout the set, abetted by some no doubt well-practiced eye-daubing techniques that kept the mystery (of how his eyes look) intact. And that was fine. We wanted him to look like Ian Hunter, and damn, even at age 75, he did. Not that he has any interest in being enigmatic: When a between-song remark about the rarity of this Triangle appearance prompted an audience member to exhort him to make a return visit, he good-naturedly responded, “It’s a schlep.”
Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby, a pair of musical lifers who married in 2008, started off in a folkish vein before moving toward a hard-chugging groove. Alternating lead vocals, they featured songs from their three collaborations and ended with a pair of their best known tunes: Amy’s “Dancing With Joey Ramone” and Eric’s “Whole Wide World.” Afterward, the pair could be spotted taking in Hunter’s show from the back bar before returning to the stage to join in on the final, rapturous audience sing-along of “All the Young Dudes.”