MOTT THE HOOPLE – LIVE (30TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION): A Retrospective Righting Of Rock & Roll Wrongs

“I feel neglected, feel rejected/Living in the wrong time”: that was a line written and sung by Ian Hunter on Mott The Hoople’s Brain Capers album. It could be applied to a lot of bad breaks in their career. For example, consider the one live album released by the band during their career: it was cobbled from a couple of gigs on both sides of the Atlantic (the Uris Theater on Broadway in NYC, the Hammersmith Odeon back at home). The band didn’t like the performances they had to choose from. Even worse,  this was before the heyday of double-live LP’s so the group’s performances had to be hacked down to fit one 53-minute album.

Thirty years later, the band was allowed to right some wrongs with a 30th anniversary double CD edition of the album that allowed them to devote a full CD’s length to the Broadway and Hammersmith shows.  There’s set list overlap between the two locales but there are unique songs on each disc and enough of a difference in performances to make it a compelling listen for fans.

The Broadway material offers an intriguingly raw and edgy take on the polished productions of the Columbia Records era, particularly with wildman guitarist Ariel Bender barnstorming through each solo in devil-may-care style.  The faux-operetta of “Marionette” becomes as ornery as a Sensational Alex Harvey Band raver here (puppets accompanied it during the show!) and “Sucker” has a new, heavy throb to it. 

Elsewhere in the Broadway setlist, Overend Watts waxes proto-punkish on “Born Late ’58” and a medley of “Drivin’ Sister/Crash Street Kidds/Violence” rocks hard but with an icy grandeur to it (the “now you’re dead!” segue from “Kidds” to “Violence” is chilling stuff).  It’s worth mentioning the heavy stuff gets a solid counterbalance in the form of intense yet lovely readings of “Rest In Peace” and “Hymn For The Dudes.” Bender’s wailing guitar style is beautifully applied to a brief but searing solo in the latter.

However, it’s the Hammersmith material that steals the show here. This stuff was always the better side of the original single-disc album and everything here shines with a focused intensity.  The Columbia stuff sounds good but the revelations come in the form of Island-era tracks: “Sweet Angeline” has traded the relaxed Stonesiness of the album version for an electrifying runaway-train rearrangement built on a fast-chugging guitar riff and “Walking With A Mountain” becomes an exploratory showcase for careening but energetic guitar solos from Bender.

The big scene-stealer of the Hammersmith recordings is one of the few that appeared intact on the original LP, a scorching 16-minute medley that mixes Mott faves like “Jerkin Crocus” and “Rock & Roll Queen” with snippets of cover tunes like the Beatles’ “Get Back” and Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”  If it sounds like the band was playing with furious energy, they were: apparently, Odeon’s management tried to cut off this encore only for the band to block the curtain with a piano and continue raving away.

A nice full-color liner notes booklet tops the package off in style. Band biographer Campbell Devine does a typically excellent job of laying out the history behind the scenes of the shows, including up-to-date interview bits from the band.  Dale Griffin, drummer and producers of the original album, also offers some retrospective musings about his work on putting the album together. It’s a compelling read, particularly the accounts of the infamous Hammersmith Odeon encore and a battle backstage at Uris with Led Zeppelin!

In short, this is an impressive rehabilitation for an overlooked live album, restoring it to the glory it should have displayed way back in 1974.  It’s well worth an addition to the Mott fan’s personal archive.

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