When Mott The Hoople last played in Milwaukee, the Domes were less than a decade old, Summerfest was approaching its seventh season, and Richard Nixon was in the last throes of his presidency. The date was May 22, 1974, and the band was touring the United States in support of their most recent album, The Hoople. This proved to be their final studio album; founding frontman Ian Hunter left the group by the end of the year, and Mott The Hoople were no more. It appeared the band would never again cross the Atlantic.
But after nearly 45 years, Mott The Hoople have returned to America. Billed as Mott The Hoople ’74, the lineup consists of three members that were on the last American tour: vocalist and guitarist Ian Hunter, guitarist Luther Grosvenor—better known as Ariel Bender—and keyboardist Morgan Fisher. The two other members from the ’74 tour, who also were founding members of the band, Pete Overend Watts and Dale “Buffin” Griffin, both passed away in the past three and a half years. Ian Hunter’s usual backing band, The Rant Band, is standing in for them, as well as augmenting the group.
That Milwaukee is one of Mott’s tour stops is notable enough, as they are only playing eight cities, but it’s even more remarkable that Milwaukee is the first stop, and that the band is playing in the same building they did in 1974, the Miller High Life Theatre, which was then known as the Milwaukee Auditorium. Monday night marked this celebratory return to Milwaukee.
During the ’74 tour, the opening band in Milwaukee was Kansas, who took over the spot when Queen had to drop out because guitarist Brian May became ill. This time around The Suburbs had the honor. The nine-piece ensemble wasted no time getting started, as if they only had a few minutes to work with and wanted to pack in as much as possible. Singer and keyboardist Chan Poling commanded from center stage, guitars dueled from the wings, the drums barely let up, and horns punctuated and sometimes drove the danceable, poppy songs. After nine songs and just shy of 40 minutes, they were finished, and the house lights went up.
When it went black again, “Jupiter” from Gustav Holst’s The Planets boomed through the speakers—just as it has before the opening of so many Mott The Hoople shows before. And then a familiar voice could be heard in the darkness; it was David Bowie encouraging the crowd to, “Please welcome, from England, Mott The Hoople.” Ian Hunter, wearing shades, raised a glass to the audience as he walked on stage with the band. He went into the first stanzas of Don McLean’s “American Pie,” ending with “The day the music died,” and then posed the question, “Or did it?” The whole band kicked into high gear to answer the question. Maybe the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll was with Elvis, Buddy Holly, and Little Richard in the 1950s; or maybe it was during Mott The Hoople’s original run in the early 1970s; but with the band going full bore from the get-go here, it wouldn’t be out of the question to think the golden age was still with us in 2019.
Hunter, Bender, and Fisher were situated towards the front of the stage, and the spotlights often shined on one or all of them. Hunter’s vocals were largely intact and held up for the whole show, and he was limber and moved around with ease. He turns 80 this year, but there was no hint of that anywhere. Fisher, wearing his usual keyboard-lapeled jacket, started and ended a handful of the songs. At one point he took a glass of champagne—or more likely white wine—and ran to the opposite side of the stage and threw the liquid into the air. Bender, wearing a red flat cap, a black tailcoat, and black and white checkered pants, was spinning, stomping his feet, and gesticulating in the air with his free hands, as if he was a frenetic music box that had been wound up before coming on stage. He often brought himself close to the front of the stage during his solos, and the spotlight hit him and those in the front rows. It was apparent that he was relishing every moment of the show, and he more than once started a “Seventy-four! Seventy-four! Seventy-four!” chant.
Following the opening number, things began to ease up a bit. After a relaxed and mid-tempo “Alice,” the energy was pumped back up with “Honaloochie Boogie.” But it was again brought back down as the spotlight fell on Fisher as he began the opening bars of “Rest in Peace.” From there on out it was a slow simmer as the intensity grew with each number—through “I Wish I Was Your Mother” and two songs from The Hoople, “Pearl ‘n’ Roy (England)” and “Roll Away the Stone.” And that’s when Fisher ran to the other side of the stage and threw his drink in the air as Hunter strummed his guitar and the band launched into a raucous version of the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane.” It was at this moment that the crowd finally boiled over, and almost everyone was on their feet.
A rollicking version of “All The Way From Memphis”—after which Bender asked, “Did we pass the audition?”— and a handful of other songs came next, before a medley onslaught of Mott tunes interspersed with rock ‘n’ roll classics, similar to how they appear on Mott The Hoople Live, the album that was released following the 1974 tour. The memorable riff from “You Really Got Me” was sandwiched between “Jerkin’ Crocus” and “One Of The Boys.” Bender leaned against Hunter and put his arm around his back. The song ended, Hunter switched acoustics, and within a second or two they went into their next medley, which had parts from at least nine different songs in it. With that, Hunter thanked the crowd and the band left the stage.
The crowd was completely in the palm of the band’s hand at this point, and was back on its feet, whistling and yelling for them to come back out. Cell phones illuminated the room, as did a handful of lighters. The band returned and Hunter once again raised a glass, but in his other hand he held up a proclamation from Mayor Barrett that said it was Mott The Hoople Day. Bender once again started his “Seventy-four! Seventy-four! Seventy-four!” chant. And then Mott The Hoople finished their set. “Saturday Gigs” was relaxed and reflective, and when Hunter exclaimed “Just one more thing before we go,” the band turned to “All The Young Dudes.” The crowd was glowing, some were swaying to the music, and many had their hands up. “We deliberately came here…it’s the only place where when you get in, people thank you for coming. So thank you for having us,” Hunter said before the band walked off. All the young dudes are a little bit older now, but they can still carry some news, and it’s still worth listening to.
1. American Pie/The Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll
2. Lounge Lizard
4. Honaloochie Boogie
5. Rest In Peace
6. I Wish I Was Your Mother
7. Pearl ‘n’ Roy (England)
8. Roll Away The Stone
9. Sweet Jane
11. Walking With A Mountain
12. All The Way From Memphis
14. Jerkin’ Crocus/You Really Got Me/One Of The Boys
15. Rock And Roll Queen/Crash Street Kidds/Death May Be Your Santa Claus/Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On/Mean Woman Blues/Johnny B. Goode/Violence/Milwaukee Rocks/You Really Got Me
1. Saturday Gigs
2. All The Young Dudes