Hunter - Ronson: Playing Like a Royal Flush
23 April 1975
by Jay Lengnick
It was a natural combination in an unlikely role, a daring pair of aces not bothering to bluff. That Mott's lead Dude and Bowie's Main Man would/could be a team was an exciting prospect, but it was likewise confusing. Mott the Hoople, riding a vainglorious wave of stardom, split up shortly after a successful tour in a two-part move. What evolved was Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson, two formidable powers in the decade's first half, together with a new band. And they chose a week in Milwaukee, with two weekend shows at the Uptown, to answer the intriguing question of where the phased out glam rock rave was heading. When the hand was called, the aces played like a royal flush.
Automatically, from Ronson's Bowie days & Hunter's Mott days of filled arenas, they had to prove all over again what they were worth.
The approach was straightforward and open. No glitter, no props, no bullshit, just two distinctive stage and musical personalities strongly complemented by its three supporting members and each other. What was played was an extraordinary balance of talent, a meshing of the stars' music, showmanship and mutual respect. Neither Ronson or Hunter tried to dominate or steal the show. Indeed, they seemed to bend over backwards to do the exact opposite.
The music ranged from the brand new Ian Hunter semi-solo album, impressive in its unfamiliarity, through the guitar mastery of Ronson's solo material to the Mott faves, sensibly mixed to peak effectiveness. The two different shows, the same in content, even seemed to balance, the first excitedly nervous and the second tightly confident.
The set began with Hunter serving up a pair of new ones. The first verse of 'Once Bitten Twice Shy' was not up to the impact of Mott's 'American Pie' intro of last year, but it dived into musical hardness in the same fashion. The peppy naughtiness of the song contrasted strongly with the raunchy hard line delivery of 'Lounge Lizard', and the visually toned down Hunter showed no loss of compositional capability.
Ronson then stepped to the forefront and Hunter back for a song each from his two solo efforts. Crowd recognition was first ignited here, and Mick's vocals shined on the cheery, quicker tempoed 'Slaughter' tune. 'Angel No. Nine' followed, and exhibited the electric virtuosity of the former Spider, whose Hendrix inspired licks of years ago have been individually refined to a teasingly styled influence.
The spotlight was on Hunter again, with his own 'Who Do You Love' leading up to the inevitable merging of the two stars' stage presence, bumping and grinding off each other in happy union. The show took shape from that point, where the audience had been introduced to the pair. Even the band's lack of tradition, which is demanded for doing a classic like 'White Light/White Heat', did not much hinder the enjoyment Ronson's vocal and guitar work seemed to express.
Ian & Mick's new ballad, 'Boy', was unmistakenly about the common ground from which he and Ronson had both grown, David Bowie. The intro was rearranged for the stage show to give Ronson the lead work, and the lyrically potent piece seemed emotionally stronger live, with Hunter's vocal enhancement. The two contrasting guitar postures were emphatically evident during 'Boy'; Hunter's straight ahead high slung strumming and Ronson's hip cocked, sidestepped attack.
'Play Don't Worry', another tune of deep-rooted feeling was lacking the excellent sax fills of the album, but the lead break was stronger. It was Ian's turn again on 'The Truth, the Whole Truth, Nothin but the Truth', 'dedicated to 95% of all Americans, cause they grew up on bullshit', a slow and heavy piece, with a searing and sighing Ronson guitar emphasis.
The rest of the show was dedicated to old Mott material, with the exception of the hypnotizing instrumental 'Slaughter on Tenth Avenue', featuring the sensuous guitar message Ronson gave his Les Paul. It was during 'Roll Away the Stone' when Hunter finally let fly his vast array of hand gestures, carrying through the slow and fast version of the song, as well as through the Mott medley ('Golden Age of Rock and Roll,' 'All the Way From Memphis').
A very long applause break was good for an encore of 'All the Young Dudes' and 'Girl Can't Help It', and suddenly the show was over. What it had been, either night, was a loud look at a new wave. As the trend has recently been for a group to try to outdo its last effort in theatrical production and extravagance, Hunter and Ronson are willing to start anew, to regain some of the lost innocence of trying to play good sincere music.
The flash has toned down, the mistakes of inexperience are again evident, but the feeling of appreciation of playing has returned in a most refreshing manner. Hunter and Ronson are both strong musicians, writers, and personalities. They are forming a strong bond, based on a professional attitude and kidlike exuberance, and the product that should result from future work together is eagerly awaited.
It would be unfair in this review to not mention the warmup band Bonaroo, even though the concert's significance rested with the Hunter/Ronson merger, because they were exceptional. Bonaroo is a melting pot of musicians from Edgar Winter, Steve Miller, Doobie Brothers, Mac Davis, and Seals and Crofts. The west coast group plays a dynamic form of music, not at all like any of the groups mentioned. Keep a lookout for these numero unos.