Thursday, December 10, 2015

DVD Review: Ian Hunter Band feat. Mick Ronson, Live at Rockpalast 1980

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

Ian Hunter Band feat. Mick Ronson, Live at Rockpalast 1980
Directed by Christian Wagner
74 min, 1980 / 2011 / 2012

Call me crazy, but I always thought of Ian Hunter’s infamous Mott the Hoople as the British version of the MC5. After he left the band, well, if you’ve ever had the chance to hear Mott, you know just how sorely he was missed. I saw Mott open for Sparks at Avery Fischer Hall in the mid-1970s and, well, it’s not a good memory.

Guitarist extraordinaire Mick Ronson, who died in 1993 of cancer, first came to the consciousness of the US through his work with Bowie’s Spiders of Mars. I still remember seeing the ginormous billboard promote his solo LP, Slaughter on 10th Avenue in Times Square in the ‘70s (I have a picture of it somewhere). When he joined up with Mott, both he and Hunter soon left to live in New York City and continue their collaboration.

When introduced by the emcee for this performance at Grugahalle, in Essen, Germany, on April 20, 1980 (Adolph’s birthday, FYI), I find it kind of funny that these two Brits are invoked as a New York band. This is part of the same tour that gave the world Hunter’s Welcome to the Club live double LP; in fact, the playlist is extremely similar. The one major difference, I’m sorry to say, is that there is no Ellen Foley, who often backed up Hunter and Ronson. Other than that, the band is the same.

After a brief instrumental of “F.B.I.”, Hunter strolls out with his guitar and after saying hello in German, the band lays into ”Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” a hit from his eponymous first solo release. They show they are there to take care of business. As with many of his songs of the period, they are a bit rough and yet poppy, and have enormous hooks that are just shy of stadium rock stature.

Hunter never had a “perfect” voice, which makes it all the more charming in its uniqueness. You can recognize it instantly, and not just because of the ever present accent. He also seems quite at ease on the stage as he continues on covering key songs from his solo LPs and some – but not much – Hoople material.

A stand-out song right at the beginning is the underrated Sonny Bono sans-Cher song, “Laugh at Me.” It’s the first time Ronson joins in with his vocals, as he shares a mic with Hunter for the first few stanzas of the instantly identifiable, round-chording of the eventually Republican Scientologist Bono (d. 1998; he would have been 80 this year).

After the ballad “Irene Wilde” where Hunter trade his guitar for a piano, he hooks up again to cover the Hoople’s grinder, “I Wish I Was Your Mother,” with Ronson on mandolin. On this one, Hunter has a sort of Dylan-esque patter to his voice.

But he picks it up again with the rousing jailhouse themed “Just Another Night,” including a stint of standing in the audience – next of a seemingly very nervous cameraman – as the crowd chants the title over and over, fed by the band holding up the words in German. This is followed by the first song that sounds like the ‘80s, “We Gotta Get Out of Here,” as it is drenched in a synth sound; it’s a tone I’m not particularly fond of, but the upbeat pace saves it on some level.

They redeem themselves with the lengthy, hard-hitting and mean spirited “Bastard,” which always reminded me of the song “For the Hell of It” from Phantom of the Paradise (1974). Also, they return to form with “All the Way from Memphis,” a rousing Hoople number where Hunter and Ronson trade complimentary guitar licks. I also find it amusing that the song “Cleveland Rocks” had such a strong second life with The Drew Carey Show. It really is a fun piece of fluff, and the band here rocks it up with no mercy.

For the encore, we get treated to the two leads’ biggest hits, Hunter’s “All the Young Dudes” and Ronson’s instrumental “Slaughter on 10th Avenue.” For me, these were possibly the least fave songs on the DVD, because, well, I’ve never been a fan of those two particular numbers. So much of the other material here is far superior. In my meager opinion, the only reason “Dudes” was as popular as it was is because it was written by the Thin White Duke, rather than the quality of the actual song.

The sound here, as with most of this series, is quite crisp, as is the visuals. However, there is some visual “noise” occasionally, seen as lines across the screen that crop up here and there. It’s a common effect from transferring from PAL to a non-European format. Still, it’s (a) not often or intrusive enough to ruin the experience, and (b) the quality of the music makes it worth it. The only extras are some 30-second trailers of other Rockpalast releases, the song list, a really nice booklet filled with black and white photos of the show, and technical information (i.e., credits). Note that this is also available as a CD, and I’m going to venture to guess it’s also obtainable in digital form.

Most of the band is dressed in stage clothes that represent more of the New Wave, with guitarist Tom Morrongiello’s curly mullet and black and white tiger-striped top (and sunglasses, of course), or another member in a black leather jacket that’s more Michael Jackson than Ramones, all of which would be outdated very shortly. Hunter, of course, wears what has become his signature outfit: white shoes, gray suit and white shirt with extended collars and loosened tie, sunglasses, and his big perm (which I’d have to be convinced that it’s not a wig).

As over-indulgent music grabbed hold of the ‘80s, many British vocalists would strike out on their own and have overbloated hits, such as Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” or Phil Collins’…well, everything. Just about the only one who rose above all that clamor, in my humble opinion, was Hunter with his “All of the Good Ones Are Taken,” which is sadly not included here because it would not be released for another three years after this show.

For a guy who is 41 years old at the time this was recorded (he’s 76 now), Hunter put together a great show for this concert. And we, the audience, are the lucky for it.

Ian Hunter: vox / guitar / keyboards
Mick Ronson: guitar / vox
Tom Morrongiello: guitar
Martin Briley: bass
George Meyer: keyboards / saxophone
Tom Mandel: keyboards
Eric Parker: drums

Song List:
Once Bitten Twice Shy
Laugh at Me
Irene Wilde
I Wish I Was Your Mother
Just Another Night
We Gotta Get Out of Here
All the Way from Memphis
Cleveland Rocks
All the Young Dude
Slaughter on 10th Avenue


Bonus No. 1 unconnected video:

Bonus No. 2 unconnected video:

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