Hunter and Ronson Tie The Knot
by Ron Ross
If New York and Los Angeles are the nerve centers of rock 'n' roll in America, Cleveland is its heartbeat. Known as the Liverpool of the U. S. for spawning such favorite sons as the Raspberries and Joe Walsh, Cleveland is an industrial center much like Birmingham ori Glasgow in Britain. The city's rock fans are as intensely committed to their faves as the notoriously demonstrative and loyal Detroit audience, but the rock lifestyle in Cleveland seems more benign and fun-loving. When Roxy Music arrived at the Cleveland airport during their third American tour, 1500 frenzied Ferry fans trapped the beleaguered sheik in a taxi-dispatch booth, where he signed dozens of autographs and smiled shyly at the adoring hordes. Cleveland's latest golden age of rock 'n' roll was inspired by the rise of Ziggy Stardust, and there, the glitter empire founded by Bowie, Lou Reed, and Mott the Hoople has never fallen.
Since then, as Motts erstwhile mainman Ian Hunter would have it, 'a lot of water and a lot of music has gone under the bridge,' but the debut concert in America's glitter capital by two of the golden age's greatest starts, Hunter himself and team-mate Mick Ronson, was an event to savor and celebrate. When Cleveland had rocked with Hunter last, Mott had been at the height of their powers, with Ariel Bender, a vision of high energy and youthful flash. Ronson's role in Bowie's Aladdin Sane extravaganza the year before was an unleashing of platinum pure electricity that remained etched in the Cleveland kids' brains as the ultimate manifestation of axe-murdering theatricality.
Death of glitter: Let the 'critics' and even Bowie declare that glitter was dead and gone, Cleveland knew that the spirit of Ziggy and all the young dudes was more than a matter of mere make-up; glitter and glamour were the life breath of rock, good for the body and good for the soul. Whatever changes Hunter and Ronson had gone through keeping their music, their message, and their mental health together, their partnership in the same band was something of a miracle for their hard core fans, like lightning striking twice. For a pair of professional punks such as Ian and Mick, who had seen it all and come dangerously close to enjoying it less, Cleveland was the town to recharge their own enthusiasm and that vital sense of self-importance that comes so much more from the first twenty rows than from managers or money. The way prisoners in a California penetentiary welcome Johnny Cash is the way Hunter and Ronson could count on being received in Cleveland. Record deals split between two monster corporations and a tour whose ticket sales have been hard hit by recession faded into the background, giving way to the rock 'n' roll Here and Now so dear to ravers everywhere, but especially in Cleveland, where kids do like to get down and get crazy on the weekend.
So in Cleveland, as in Detroit and Memphis, the Hunter-Ronson concert meant a reaffirmation of a most precious image: that badass rocker with a glamorous gloss and a lethal lead guitar. But what nobody who had loved Mott or the Spiders could have anticipated was the music itself and an attitude toward rock 'n' roll that went far beyond Ian's tasteful black & white duds or Ronson's Greek vase physique. Simply put, even on this maiden voyage, Hunter and Ronson have put together a show that has all the trendy stylized excitement and flair of their past performances, enhanced by a new authority and purely sonic power that smacks of the Essential. If they can hurdle the obstacles presented by split management and separate record company deals, they could be in a class with the Stones, Zeppelin or the Who as purveyors of razor sharp hard rock.
Men of mettle: Hunter-Ronson live prove that their hastily formed union after Ian's resignation from Mott early this year was not just a marriage of convenience, contrived to salvage two flagging careers. First Ian and Mick produced Hunter's first solo album with their new band, charging a set of potent Hunter originals with an energy much more direct than most of either Mott or the Spider's fabled output. Ronson's unerring ear gave them a group sound that takes heavy metal to a uniquely high level of impact and even (omigosh) literacy. Whether their dual guitars are Chuck Berry riffing through 'Once Bitten Twice Shy' or blending a prototypical Zep riff with a primal Lennon lyric on 'The Truth,' the Hunter-Ronson band has a presence that is undeniably exciting, with none of the coyness that tainted whatever it was we called 'glitter rock.'
This hard-hitting eclecticism works even better on stage. Since Ronson and Hunter have just begun to write with each other, their concert repetoire consists mainly of material from Ronson's two post-Spiders solo albums and Hunter's solo debut. The two stars take the spotlight alternately, providing each other with strong support that reinforces their best individual points. On tunes like 'Lounge Lizzard' and 'Who Do You Love?' Hunter is All Attitude, playing with conventional boy-girl confrontations and avoiding the introspective autobiographical moodiness that had begun to cast a shadow over Mott's music. If not exactly a chirpy character at his most enthusiastic, Hunter may be the most light-footed rhythm guitarist since Pete Townsend.
Slaughter: Ronson, on the other hand, is a life-time member of the Jeff Beck plant-you-feet-on-the-floor-and-soar school. Gaining confidence in his voice, Ronson brings of numbers such as 'Angel No. 9' and 'Play Don't Worry' with considerably more assurance than on record. His compelling charisma results from the contrast between his boyish vocal sincerity, his manly body, and his savage guitar style. Ronson is of course a star in this band and not a side-man as he was in the Spiders, and 'Slaughter On Tenth Avenue,' which in concert features some fluent piano from Pete Arnesen, is a perfect vehicle for Mick's non-verbal eloquence.
Speaking to Hunter and Ronson about their future, it becomes apparent that Ian in particular is very concerned that they be a seventies band. Though he claims never to have listened to a Zeppelin album, Hunter points to Zep's super-success as but one indication that the musical values of the sixties linger on, mostly because nothing new has been sufficiently together to replace them. Without naming names, Hunter remarked that a couple of people that have become super-stars in the seventies are projections of the idea of rock 'n' roll rather than rock 'n' roll in its most real form.
Just as Hunter's personality sems oddly split between his longing for privacy and an obsession with honesty that makes him speak his mind, his musical future seems to lie in his successfully combining the extroverted and introverted sides of his talent. The positive pressure of communication with one so decidedly non-conceptual as Ronson gave Ian's most recent writing a direct quality that much of Mott's Hoople material lacked. Yet Hunter admits he's becoming more and more attracted to recording a 'Dylan type of thing.' 'I feel myself gettin' more and more drawn toward that Blonde and Blonde [sic] sound,' he told Circus, as if he had a hard time believing it himself.
Muscle music: Where this leaves Ronson the guitar virtuoso only time will tell. Ronno has applied the lessons learned from 'Panic In Detroit' and 'Cracked Actor' to his solos on 'White Light/White Heat' and 'The Truth' with a breathtaking and almost unapproachable ferocity. Ronson's gift for sound and fury is a heavy metal asset that Hunter would be foolish not to take further advantage of. But beyond his sinewy performance style, Ronson is an arranger and producer who really comes into his own in the studio. Certainly his string and accoustic arrangements for Bowie's Hunky Dory are the equal of his work on Lou Reed's 'Viscious' and David's 'Moonage Daydream.' Ronson is as musically articulate as he is verbally reticent. His versatility is the best insurance Hunter could want for a future that one suspects he hopes will make him as respected as a songwriter as he is as a star.
But the Cleveland kids didn't care much about the future. The girls who strained to grab Ronson's legs seemed to be seeking proof that the platinum hunk was really back in their midst. While Ronson melted the chicks into erotic moistness, Hunter, at the other side of the stage, snarled at the young guys in dark glasses and snakeskin boots, who even while they were bopping, studied him as a model of cool. By the time Hunter and Ronson returned to the stage to encore with 'All the Young Dudes,' the audience had exploded like a human siren. The glitter era's anthem has never sounded better than Hunter, Ronson and Company have played it on this first tour, and if one might borrow another phrase from Bowie to describe the new group's potential, it would have to be, 'they're growing up and they're fine.'