Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ian Hunter & the Rant Band in Kent, Ohio, and the Greying of Live Rock & Roll

My lovely wife Debbie and I made a road trip this past weekend to see Ian Hunter & the Rant Band at Kent Stage, a truly great venue in Kent, Ohio.  Kent's rather unfortunate claim to fame is that it houses Kent State University, where on May 4th, 1970, four Kent State University students were shot to death and nine wounded by a detachment of National Guardsmen.  I was a senior in high school on that day and harbor my own 1960's-derived conspiracy-theory thoughts on the subject - i.e. that then-President Richard M. Nixon called up then-Governor James Rhodes and said, "Let's put an end to this Vietnam War campus-protest nonsense.  Kill some solidly Midwest students.  No one will really take it all that seriously if it's New York City or California, we need to make a statement and an example in Middle America."  (I offer as evidence of my theory that two black students were killed and 12 were wounded by police gunfire on May 15th, 1970, just eleven days later at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi.  Nobody seems to remember that incident and Neil Young never wrote any songs about those kids.)

However, Governmental Murder For Hire is not our topic today.  Today's topic is Ian Hunter & The Rant Band live.

The weekend started promisingly when the desk clerk at the Akron Comfort Suites - Brittany, by name, who couldn't have been, to paraphrase Chuck Berry, a minute over 22 - knew who Mott The Hoople was.  While making small talk during check-in I mentioned we were seeing Ian Hunter in Kent and Brittany didn't know who that was.  "He was in a band called Mott The Hoople that you are far too young to remember," I said, rather condescendingly.  "I know Mott The Hoople," Brittany replied brightly, "they did 'All The Bad Dudes,' right?"  "All The Young Dudes" I corrected, but simulteously totally impressed that a 20-something year old even REMOTELY knew of the existence of Mott The Hoople.  "I make it a point to know my rock & roll," Brittany replied.  It was a promising omen at the beginning of the trip.        

My live rock & roll encounter previous to this Ian Hunter show was a Rolling Stones tribute band at the Columbus, Ohio, Hollywood Casino.  (My full account & review of that show can be found on my good friend Colin Gawel's music/arts/sports/entertainment blogsite - - where most of my local Columbus-based journalism is posted.  You should check out the site, it's really good fun.)  It's becoming increasingly problematic to me that, at 61 years old, I find myself attending only shows that connect back to my 20's in the 1970's, my heyday of rock & roll.  I don't necessarily want to be one of those people who won't go see young, up-and-coming bands, but I am.

I mainly blame an act called Dr. Dog for my bands-under-thirty live-act antipathy.  Back in 2008, when I was still totally immersed in music culture - actively on the road with both Hamell On Trial and Watershed and working at an indie record store between tours - Dr. Dog were being touted as the Next Big Thing.  That August my young rocker friend Kyle - who gamely, earnestly tries to keep me abreast of and interested in "new" music trends - attended Summerfest, a day-long music festival sponsored by CD 102.5 -Columbus' great locally-owned & operated alternative-rock radio station.  Dr. Dog headlined.  And they sucked.  Badly.  They sucked badly.  Really, really badly.  At one point I turned to Kyle (who wasn't crazy about Dr. Dog's performance, but certainly wasn't as traumatized as I was) and said, "I don't even know what kind of music this is supposed to be.  Is this supposed to be rock & roll?  Do these guys think that they are playing rock & roll music?"

As a result of that summer Saturday I have turned my back and disassociated myself from an entire generation of live rock & roll.  I'm sorry Arcade Fire; I'm sorry Mumford & Sons; I'm sorry Black Keys; I'm sorry Of Monsters & Men; I'm sorry Lumineers.  I'm sorry to whoever is the next pale, weedy group of boys & girls with wispy goatees & peasant dresses that I see on Austin City Limits: I will not be at your show.  I realize that in the future I will very likely be missing some good music, but there you go.  Blame it on Dr. Dog and their non-rocking, sucking ways.

(editor's note: Congratulations, Ricki, you've reached the 700-plus word mark in this blog entry and have not typed one single sentence about Ian Hunter & the Rant Band live in Kent, Ohio.)

Alright, alright, alright!  After an enjoyable opening set by Amy Rigby & Wreckless Eric (who, by the way, sounds EXACTLY like he did back in 1978 on the Stiffs Live record) the mighty Rant Band took the stage and slammed into "What For" from the new When I'm President album, not-so-subtly announcing that this was not going to be an Oldies Show, that new Hunter material was going to be featured.  Ian ambled onto the stage, making a great entrance in a long-sleeve white shirt & black jeans, looking incredibly fit, trim & vital, belying his 74 years on the planet.  The second song of the set was "Once Bitten Twice Shy," serving equal notice that Ian wasn't going to ignore The Hits in the show.

And therein might lie my problem with The Greying Of Live Rock & Roll: audience resistance to New Material in lieu of Crowd Favorites.  I may not be giving the audience at Kent Stage enough credit, but it seemed to me that a rather large majority of the crowd were there for a Nostalgia Night.  They wanted to hear Mott material like "All The Way From Memphis," "Golden Age Of Rock & Roll," and, of course, "All The Young Dudes" and Ian solo hits "Just Another Night" (just about the only Radio Hit that didn't get played) and "Cleveland Rocks."  (Kent is, after all, a stone's throw from the hometown of the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.)

I really have to wonder how many audience members in attendance at this show have bought - or are even aware of the existence of - Ian's four brilliant 21st-century releases: Rant, Shrunken Heads, Man Overboard and When I'm President.  (More on that in my August 2nd, 2013 blog entry Ian Hunter (w/ Mick Ronson) "Once Bitten Twice Shy."  And all the Bonus Video Friday blogs in August featured Hunter and/or Mott The Hoople.)  Also, disturbingly, there were precious few young people at the show - fifty & up seemed to be the order of the day.  My wife Debbie, many years my junior, might have been one of the youngest people in attendance.

So the Rant band plowed through a truly rocking set, mixing in newer tunes like "Black Tears," "Shrunken Heads" and "Just The Way You Look Tonight" with the Crowd Favorites mentioned above, before smashing to a close with the new album's "Ta Shunka Witco (Crazy Horse)" - delivered with a venom wholly in keeping with the song's message of America's betrayal of her indigenous people - and "Life."  I think Ian has penned "Life" as a ongoing dedicated set-ender, to replace the now 40-year old "All The Way From Memphis," or the 39-year old "Saturday Gigs," the songs that have concluded Hunter shows the last few times I've seen him, further reinforcing that this is not an Oldies Show, that this is a band that can look fearlessly into the future and "Laugh, because it's only life." 

© 2013 Ricki C.

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