Welcome To The Club

Ian Hunter

Chrysalis, 1980

http://www.ianhunter.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 04/17/2009

The 1970s were so jam-packed with outstanding live albums -- and the bulk of this album was recorded in November 1979, even if it wasn’t issued until 1980 -- that sometimes great ones still get lost in the historical shuffle.  Let’s see if we can’t correct that, shall we?

Welcome To The Club -- at least the core of it -- represents one of the many apexes of Ian Hunter’s musical career.  After climbing out of the smoking wreckage of Mott The Hoople, he’d trudged off to make a stellar solo debut album with musical brother-in-arms, guitarist and arranger Mick Ronson, only to see their alliance splinter amidst conflicting management and label commitments.  Hunter made two more successively less impressive solo discs on his own before reuniting with Ronson for 1979’s brilliant, best-selling You’re Never Alone With A Schizophrenic

This set was recorded at the tail end of the Schizophrenic tour and documents “The Ian Hunter Band featuring Mick Ronson” -- as the announcer introduces them at the kick-off – at the absolute height of their musical powers.  Hunter is the face and voice and primary songwriter of the group, but Ronson is nonetheless its musical engine.

At this point in Hunter’s career, his solo output consisted of four albums -- one of which (Overnight Angels) he himself all but disawoved -- versus the seven LPs he completed as frontman for Mott The Hoople, the band Ronson joined just in time for it all to fall apart.  Thus it’s not that surprising to discover the live setlist here actually features more Mott cuts (seven) than Hunter solo tracks (six).  There are also a pair of instrumental Ronson featurettes bookending the show -- the driving opening jam “F.B.I.,” which harks back to Mott’s habit of opening with their instrumental version of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” and the pretty closer “Slaughter On Tenth Avenue,” the title track from Ronson’s 1974 solo album. 

In between, you get one what sounds like one of the great rock and roll shows of the era.

As “F.B.I.” crescendos and finishes, they dive right into the strummed, tension-building riff that opens “Once Bitten Twice Shy,” with the crowd clapping along hard and loud as the song builds through the first verse and chorus -- sung solo over the spare, taut accompaniment of just Ronson and drummer Eric Parker – until at the start of the second verse the entire seven-piece band kicks in full force and slams the crowd against the back wall.  Yeah!nbtc__dv_250

The momentum grows from there like a snowball rolling downhill as the band plows into the harp-and-organ/Dylan-on-‘roids Mott classic “Angeline” -- and then, from Mott’s debut album, their brilliant reimagining of Sonny Bono’s “Laugh At Me” – and then the thundering Mott anthem “All The Way From Memphis.”

The fourth Mott cut in a row, the shimmering ballad “I Wish I Was Your Mother,” calms the crowd down some, but not enough to keep them from screaming all over the next cut, the group’s otherwise gorgeous rendering of the best song from Hunter’s second *or* third solo albums, the autobiographical coming-of-age ballad “Irene Wilde.”

And then we’re into the Schizophrenic material, as the band delivers the sing-along-worthy “Just Another Night” to roaring response and follows with a delirious rendition of “Cleveland Rocks.”  You can almost feel the Roxy’s walls shaking as Hunter leads the crowd through a succession of city names, chanting “Cleveland rocks!  Detroit rocks!” etc. until he reaches “L.A. rocks!” and the place predictably goes nuts.

Next up, “Standin’ In My Light” and “Bastard” are decent album cuts from Schizo, followed by what appear to have been the encores – a storming medley of the Mott anthems “Walkin’ With A Mountain” and “Rock’n’Roll Queen,” followed by the obligatory nod to Mott patron David Bowie, “All The Young Dudes.”

But wait, there’s more!

The original vinyl release of this album included three sides of live cuts drawn from the band’s November 1979 seven-night stand at the Roxy in LA, plus a fourth side featuring four new songs intended to fill out the double-LP format.  The 1994 CD release adds four rare or unreleased live cuts taken from the same shows, including two Mott cuts (appropriately raucous readings of “One Of The Boys” and “The Golden Age Of Rock’N’Roll”) and two solo entries (the rather plodding “When The Daylight Comes” and an odd edited-together medley of “Once Bitten Twice Shy,” “Bastard” and “Cleveland Rocks” that was created for a B-side).

The closing quartet remain -- as they were on the original release -- the four new tracks, three of them recorded live in the studio over the course of two days in January 1980 in order to finish off the LP release.  In his characteristically frank liner notes for the CD release, Hunter cops to these four new tracks’ unevenness and admits he was stuck for new material at the time.

The lack of cohesion in the latter half of this literally stitched-together collection does muck things up a bit, but the core of this album -- the first fourteen live tracks, the original sides one through three of the double LP -- are so strong that the obvious flaws present in the rest of the collection are easily forgiven.  The historical significance of this album is acute as well when you consider this is the only substantial documentary evidence of what a Hunter-Ronson-led Mott The Hoople might have sounded like.  The answer?  Explosive as a ten-megaton warhead -- and a lot more fun.

Warts and all, Welcome To The Club is a more-than-worthy addition to any collection of classic ’70s live albums, and the most complete live document of one of the most potent musical partnerships of the rock and roll era.

Rating: A-

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