Ian Hunter’s Campaign Swing
SEATTLE— Ian Hunter has drawn the same fans for ages and they are all here tonight, but this is more than just “All the Old Dudes.” A new album, a crack band and perfect weather prove that people who’ve followed Hunter for all this time were right in the first place.
His new When I’m President is comfort music for classic rock refugees who want to remember the spirit but will feel just fine if they never hear “Won’t Get Fooled Again” again. It’s typical as Hunter albums go, with odes to rock and roll mixed with bombastic power ballads and a few surprises. One is “Fatally Flawed,” which starts out gentle and then explodes; two or three times.
“I love the bombast, and how that song goes from naught to ten.” Hunter said.
“I love it when the high drama kicks in.”
Another surprise is the title track, a seemingly educated rant about the elections and the political system. It’s easy to scorn artists who babble on about politics as they are often stupid, disagree with what we know is the truth or both.
“When I’m President” just clicks. It’s a direct descendent of the buoyant rock and roll that has been Hunter’s calling card from the beginning. And at the break he hits the nail on the head, politically speaking.
“You come in with the best intent when you become president…..but something happens to you up on the hill, it’s business as usual. So you want to buck the system, welcome to the pit and the pendulum.”
“I’m pretty down the middle. But I don’t like the Republican people, it’s a great idea but some of the people who’ve got a hold of it are out of control,” Hunter said.
“It seems like everyone is angry at everyone else and that needs to change. But I don’t really want to be president, it’s a horrible job. The very last line in the song is ‘when I’m president pigs are gonna fly’ so it can be taken as a guy spouting off in a bar. Which is sort of what I’m doing.”
This particular night Hunter and band whip through an hour set of career high points. Four of them were album openers, so it feels like a hit parade. As he’s winding up “Sweet Jane” he says “that’s it” and walks off the stage. The crowd knows there is more to come as “All the Young Dudes” is yet unplayed.
He returns with “Roll Away the Stone,” “Saturday Gigs” and “Dudes,” which he’s played thousands of times but still keeps fresh. The song goes on forever and the crowd does the back and forth wave that started when the song was a hit. Some of the people who waved back then are probably here tonight.
“The audiences haven’t really changed, they’re still crazy, but we are seeing a few more younger people because the older ones have all tottered off,” he said.
“But they act the same. When we had the (2009 Mott the Hoople) reunion in London they were standing up like they always did. I’d say ‘sit down, there’s a seat right behind you’ but they never did.”
A lot of Hunter’s contemporaries won’t play anything more recent than their old hits, but he mixes in some new stuff.
“Portland isn’t one of my strongholds but last night we played six new songs, I thought it was a bit too many but the band had rehearsed them and they sounded great,” Hunter said.
“We surrounded it with stuff they knew but it didn’t seem to matter, they accepted it like anything else.”
Hunter said he tries for a balance of one third new, one third solo hits and one third Mott “but it doesn’t always happen that way.”
Hunter, 73, faces the same challenges as all his old friends, how to keep and satisfy the audiences who showed past passion for his music. He doesn’t seem to have a plan, aside from writing an interactive Q&A on his web site every month. This shuttles between the informative and the obscure, he sometimes provides details but often the notations are clipped: “Irena, Sorry, I don’t.”
But “Horse’s Mouth,” as the column is known, can be a lot of fun; especially for fans who get a personal nod from Hunter that no one else can share.
“I do my best to answer people and just go on from there,” he said.
“They’ve all been very nice to me and I feel that I owe it to them to answer their questions because they’ve looked after me for all these years.
“But before the Web there were pockets of fans everywhere, we’ve given them a way to talk to each other. And we get a lot of travelers at our gigs, which is something that never happened before.”
Even has Hunter releases compelling new music he will always be tied to his past. Strolling around these grounds today I’m telling people I am going to see Ian Hunter. They say “who’s that?” and when I mention Mott the Hoople they go “oh, yeah.”
Hunter’s fame heading Mott was an aberration, it was preceded by years of sweaty gigs in small places and followed by years of “Who’s that? Oh, yeah.”
According to the documentary “Ballad of Mott the Hoople” these early gigs were full of people who saw the band as their own and were left behind when they became glam rock kings. Those of us who were not early fans then picked up the torch, making it bigger although not always better.
The circle is complete. Hunter is now greeted by an enthusiastic cadre who claim him as their own. There may be other artists following a similar path and generating a replica of the same excitement, but right now this is the center of the world for us.
He didn’t plan this, or any other phase of his career.
“I don’t have any ambition, I never did,” he said.
“I sort of do what I want to do and the next thing comes along, although right now there are 40 gigs I have to play.”