On Saturday, April 6th, 2019, The Rock and Roll Circus WAS in town. On this warm spring evening, a crowd of (mostly) aging yet enthusiastic fans, having sold out the 3,481-seat Masonic Auditorium in minutes, entered to see the legendary Mott The Hoople on their nostalgic ’74 tour.
Bedecked in vintage rock T-shirts and snapping up the first band merchandise available after decades of waiting, they filed inside. The hall itself, getting on in years but revitalized and dignified, seemed to mirror the group we were all here to see.
It was 1974 when Mott last toured the United States, appearing in Cleveland at the Allen Theatre, supported by Kansas (who had replaced Queen on tour due to Brian May falling ill). The band was touring after the release of the album The Hoople, which had been recorded with guitarist Ariel Bender (Luther Grosvenor) and keyboardist Morgan Fisher. This album, recorded after the departure of original guitarist Mick Ralphs, was perhaps the purest expression of lead singer and songwriter Ian Hunter’s growing desire to evolve past the glam rock roots that had come before. That the band existed at all at that point in time was thanks in large part to David Bowie, whose determination to keep the band alive after hearing of its imminent break-up led him to offer them the song All The Young Dudes, and to produce their fifth studio album of the same name in 1972.
By all accounts, the reception Mott received in Cleveland was beyond anything the band had experienced to date. According to Hunter (in an interview with Matt Wardlaw in Scene) “We were doing these clubs and doing all right, like 250 [people] and getting an all right response… And then we get to Cleveland and the place is sold out and they’re going apeshit…We just thought Cleveland was the hippest place in America.” This enthusiastic response led Hunter to pen the anthemic Cleveland Rocks for his 1979 solo album You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic.
Today, in 2019, gone are the glam suits and the platform boots. What remains is the joy of rock and roll and a plaintive wistfulness for friends lost and times past. At 79 years old, Hunter, adorned with his trademark curly locks and dark glasses, led the remaining original members of Mott as ringmaster with his regular supporting musicians The Rant Band fleshing out the lineup. Luther Grosvenor (a.k.a Ariel Bender) clowned on stage, exhorting the crowd to react to his windmilling guitar theatrics. Morgan Fisher — decked out in a dinner jacket featuring a piano-key lapel — sipped champagne from a table beside his black baby grand piano, and delivered both classical and boogie-woogie flourishes.
Introduced by an audio recording from Bowie himself, the band arrived on stage after a 45-year absence. What followed was an energetic, fast-paced two-hour set with one encore that encapsulated the music from Mott releases between 1972-74 and closely mirrored the seminal Live album recorded on Broadway at the Uris Theatre, and at the Odeon in Hammersmith U.K.
Fisher and Hunter started with a few bars of Don McLean’s American Pie — asking the musical question “Did the Music really die?” before answering by launching into a rollicking performance of The Golden Age of Rock ’N’ Roll. A set of 17 songs comprised of Mott’s greatest hits (Honaloochie Boogie, Sucker, Marionette) along with homages to the Velvet Underground (Sweet Jane), Jerry Lee Lewis (Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On) and Chuck Berry (Johnny B. Goode) followed. To the roaring crowds delight, a brief exit from the stage was concluded by an encore which rounded out the evening with the seminal hits All the Way From Memphis, Saturday Gigs and Bowie’s All the Young Dudes.
It was an emotional evening, both homecoming and fond farewell. It left us feeling, as expressed in the song The Ballad of Mott, that [we] can’t erase the rock ’n’ roll feeling from [our] minds.
All concert photography by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson.