One of the great joys of music is being unable to introduce your friends to acts they didn’t know they liked. While I have been an Ian Hunter fan for a couple of decades now, ever since I heard “All the Young Dudes” on the radio in college, and have explored his back catalogue and that of his former band, Rachael, who has joined me as my usual photographer finds herself otherwise engaged, still only knows him for that one song.
Tonight’s crowd is good natured and already refreshed by the time we arrived, our day jobs having dictated that we miss the support act in favour of seeking our nourishment. We’re evidently not alone in this, as dotted around the audience are others in shirts and ties, as well as the occasional individual in manual work attire. Ian Hunter is that type of artist, if you’re a fan, you drop whatever you’re doing and go and see him.
Hitting The Plug’s elevated stage, to a roar from the crowd, The Rant Band riff away until the man himself arrives a few moments later, to a roar of approval from the crowd. Rachael is in the minority here, as this is evidently a room full of rock fans that intmately know and adore the work of one of the great unsung heroes of rock and roll. This is Ian Hunter’s crowd, and the fans’ be-shaded hero knows it.
Tonight’s show is an exercise in blending recent material with well established crowd pleasers, and skilful management of energy levels. Too many acts believe that rock and roll should be about full throttle energy levels all the time, but the fact is, that leaves precious little room for nuance. To be able to change the energy level of the crowd is a subtle thing and one that is being lost, but it is one that Hunter and his backing band have perfected to a fine art, flowing seamlessly between rocking out and heartfelt ballads at will, and effectively keeping their powder dry for exactly the right moments. Trust me, when you have the heartbreaking “Irene Wilde” followed immeadiately by a rambunctious “All the Way From Memphis”, it’s a thrilling and life affirming contrast of the two musical extremes of Hunter’s career.
Song wise, Ian Hunter and the Rant Band don’t just rely on the old favourites either, as there’s plenty of material here from his recent run of fantastic albums, with “When I’m President” being particularly pointed this evening. If you were hoping to hear hit after hit from Hunter’s Mott the Hoople days, then you might have been surprised that he only very occasionally dipped into that particular well of nostalgia, as he remains an artist who prefers to concentrate on he present, rather than resting on past glories, however tonight he does make great play of the passage of time by dedicating “Honaloochie Boogie” to ‘the baldies out there’. Tonights show is about celebrating the music Hunter has recorded since going solo, and when you hear the likes of “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”, “The Truth, The Whole Truth, Nuthin’ But the Truth” and “Just Another Night”, alongside his more recent work, you really do realise that, while Mott were great and all, his writing actually improved after he left them and remains pin-sharp today.
The final third of the gig displays exactly why careful management of energy levels is so vital to the live rock performance, as the crowd by this time remains amped up, rather than weary and spent, and as we head towards the end of the set with a sinuous and sinister version of “Bastard” and a rollicking “Sweet Jane” we’re hungry for more. This is delivered by way of an encore which starts with “Dandy”, the band’s single from last year on which they paid touching tribute to David Bowie, and climaxes with “All the Young Dudes” morphing into “Goodnight Irene”, which ultimately leaves the crowd exhausted, happy, and thoroughly entertained by a well paced, well thought out rock and roll show.
As we leave Rachael and I reflect on that fact that tonight Ian Hunter and The Rant Band have proved that you don’t need fancy lighting, changes in costume, or pyrotechnic solos to deliver a sterling rock and roll show, just a mastery of the crowd, a gold plated songbook, and a red hot band who really know what they’re doing.