June 22, 2015 Ian Hunter’s Rockin’ Birthday Party at City Winery, NYC 6-3-15
Rock-n-Roll is a living, breathing organism. It grows, changes, and adapts like a chameleon. One of the genre’s most adored artists, Ian Hunter, has partaken in that growth through the years and on Wednesday June 3rd he returned City Winery in New York City for the first time in a year. It was the former Mott the Hoople frontman’s birthday, and he would be entertaining for his own celebration where fans of all ages, including Dave “Immy” Immergluck of the Counting Crows, would receive the gift of music from a man whose original outfit was cited as influencing bands from Queen, to Sex Pistols, The Clash, Blur, The Stone Roses, Morrissey, Wilco, and Oasis. Hunter, who is rarely pictured without his iconic sunglasses, is nothing short of Rock royalty from a golden age that has inspired many to pick up the six-string razor and take to the stage. Taking a relatively unknown, newly renamed London based group, originally known as Smile, on tour with them, Hunter is a member of the only group who can say “Queen opened for my band.”
Historically speaking, Hunter was offered to take the helm for the Doors after Jim Morrison died, but decided to pass because he wanted to go his own way. From Mott The Hoople’s biggest hit, David Bowie track, “All the Young Dudes” to his own successful solo career, nothing has stopped Hunter from writing and performing great music to a fan base that has never faltered. Having just turned seventy-six years old, he had three headlining gigs in hand exclusively in New York City, flanked by phenomenal hand-picked band members, and surrounded by fans that have followed his career since Mott the Hoople’s self-titled release in 1969. The gig; which according to his own website is not part of a larger headlining tour, is aptly titled “The Spirit of 76,” a four-show block of which three are in New York, and two mark his return to the aforementioned Manhattan’s City Winery. However, Hunter will be touring with J. Geils Band in August and September on select dates.
This opening night, in The Big Apple, in particular, would feature a solo effort from The Dream Syndicate frontman Steve Wynn, accompanied by Miracle 3’s Jason Victor. A fairly short, but truly sweet seven song set featured Wynn’s own solo work, a cover of “Blind Willie McTell” by Bob Dylan, as well as songs from his tenure in both The Dream Syndicate and early ’90s Folk Rock outfit Gutterball. Opening up with “Southern California Line” from his 2001 release Here Come the Miracles, the song had an almost Southwestern vibe to it as Wynn and Victor sang to the melody with an almost Johnny Cash-like vibrancy.
Playing on, his rendition of “Blind Willie McTell” received an enormously warm response from the crowd before jumping into “Tell Me When It’s Over” off The Dream Syndicate’s 1982 release The Days of Wine and Roses. A very catchy tune off one of the most underappreciated albums in the history of Alternative Rock, Wynn’s voice has a very Bob Dylan-esque quality to it, and performing on acoustic guitar only brought it to light more. After a revitalized rendition of “Lester Young” from Wynn’s early ’90s project Gutterball’s self-titled album, he closed the set with “The Days of Wine and Roses,” and after thanking Hunter for having him to play on his birthday, Wynn left the stage to a standing ovation. Be sure to check him out as he plays select dates around the USA from now until August.
After a brief fifteen minutes of set up, the members of Hunter’s “Rant Band” began to assemble on The City Winery’s stage. With Mark Bosch of Guitar Guys From Hell and James Mastro of New Jersey’s The Bongos on guitars, Paul Page on bass, Steve Holley of Paul McCartney’s Wings on drums, as well as Dennis DiBrizzi on keys, the band was poised and ready. Thereafter Hunter took to the stage receiving a thunderous applause before even strumming a note or uttering a single word. With a quick look, they began playing “(I Am) The Teacher” off of 2000’s Once Bitten, Twice Shy. His second selection was “Central Park ‘n’ West,” David Letterman’s personal New York song favorite according to CBS Orchestra bandleader Paul Schaffer. Hunter’s voice belting the chorus, “I know it’s a mess, but you’ve gotta be crazy to live in the city, but New York City’s the best” and it brought smiles to all in the NYC crowd who knew all too well the reality in his words.
Keeping everyone completely enthralled, Hunter went into the slower and deeply heartfelt number, “Now is the Time.” To the delight of the crowd, Hunter played on with the selections of the Mott the Hoople classics “Honaloochie Boogie,” “I Wish I was Your Mother,” and “All the Way From Memphis” from the 1973 powerhouse record Mott, as well as other choice songs from the Mott the Hoople catalog including “The Golden Age of Rock and Roll,” “Walkin’ With a Mountain,” and “The Original Mixed Up Kid.”
Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of Hunter was his willingness to not just play the music that thrust him into the spotlight as a younger man, but to also highlight his more recent efforts off of his 2012 record, When I’m President. Playing the title track plainly stating that money is not everything, he stated he would “lean on the 1%,” when he is President, bringing attention to political and corporate corruption while singing “Still whining about your bonus, c’mon man, you’re ridiculous, you can’t take it with you, so give a little extra.” By the time he and the band covered The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” and walked off the stage, he and the Rant Band had performed nineteen songs, but that did not stop the crowd from begging for more. After roughly two or three minutes of the audience restlessly waiting, the band returned to the stage for a two-song encore.
Picking back up where they left off, Hunter and his band closed the set with the final track off When I’m President, entitled “Life.” This sentimental tune was a reflection on his almost fifty years of playing Rock shows, but never forgetting to laugh and enjoy what you have. Here he expressed, “I can’t believe after all these years, that your still here, I can’t believe I’m still here. Laugh, because it’s only life.” Whether it was a connection with his longtime fans, or his wife of over three decades, there was sincerity in his voice and on his face that has rarely been seen by men who have achieved as much as himself.
With a brief bridge between the songs, the night was completed with the most famous song he has ever performed, “All the Young Dudes.” As the beginning notes of track began, the entire crowd roared and stood to their feet, clapping and singing along as the song climaxed with the words “I don’t need T.V. when I got T. Rex” and going into the chorus of “All the young dudes, carry the news.” Overall, this was a show for the ages and everyone within City Winery left ecstatic to be part of it. Hunter kept his promise to himself when he penned the lyrics to “Irene Wilde,” that he was destined to “be somebody, someday.” With that said, Lebowski has nothing on Ian Hunter and “The Dude” was never a bowler, he was on the stage behind those glasses all along.