It’s the classic-rock reunion nobody expected.
Forty-five years after their last U.S. tour, British glam-rockers Mott the Hoople (“All the Young Dudes”) is gearing up for eight shows in America. The reunion will feature singer-guitarist Ian Hunter, 79; guitarist Ariel Bender, 72; and keyboardist Morgan Fisher, 69.
Hunter was the band’s lead singer and chief songwriter during its 1970s heyday. Bender and Fisher were in Mott the Hoople for its two final albums, both from 1974: The Hoople (with the barnstormers “Roll Away the Stone” and “The Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll”) and Mott the Hoople Live (recorded in London and New York). The reunited band is calling itself Mott the Hoople ’74.
Hunter, Bender and Fisher will be joined by members of Hunter’s solo group, the Rant Band, including Hoboken guy James Mastro (the Bongos). Mastro will play guitar, mandolin and saxophone — an integral instrument to the band’s sound. Also in the announced lineup are Mark Bosch (guitar), Paul Page (bass), Dennis DiBrizzi (keyboards) and Steve Holley (drums).
The tour follows several Mott shows last summer in Europe, for which Mastro also played, putting him in a unique position to observe the chemistry among Hunter, Bender (real name: Luther Grosvenor) and Fisher. Judging from videos of the 2018 shows, the three played with a spirit of renewed fellowship, almost a giddiness.
“It was there as soon as they got in a room together,” Mastro said in a call from Hoboken. “The three of them had been in contact over the years, but not physically together. As soon as they got together, the night before the first rehearsal, they just fell into this vocabulary. Because every band develops its own patter, its own special form of camaraderie.
“That was endearing to see. It was like they became young kids again. That maintained itself through all the shows we did. There’s a potential for any reunion to feel dated or anemic, but those three guys have so much energy.”
Bender, in particular, is a clown onstage — clearly a senior citizen, but animated, funny and, it must be said, nattily attired. Legend has it that back in the Mott days, Bender was a party animal (which led to his being replaced by Mick Ronson, earlier of David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars).
“He still is,” said Mastro of the party-animal charge. “I was surprised, too, because he looked older as you say, but once he got onstage, he was that Ariel Bender of 1974. He’s just a fireball.
“He lifted everybody to that level. He gives 150 percent. He’s really inspiring to see. His style is so unique. Mark (Bosch) and I just try to stay out of his way and back him up. He’s such a strong player.”
Meanwhile, Fisher is still playing with grace. His performance of Bach’s “Prelude No. 1 in C Major” as an intro to Mott’s plaintive ballad “Rest in Peace” remains flawless.
“Morgan is such a versatile and accomplished musician,” Mastro said. “He brings us to another level that just raises us. He’ll throw in the country thing, but then he might reference a classical piece for half a bar or a bar, and then look up and smile to see if anyone notices. He lives in Japan but he’s always doing projects, whether it’s sitting in with a rock band or doing these beautiful ambient records. He’s out there.”
As for Hunter, whom Mastro has played with for two decades: “Ian is the least nostalgic person I know. Me, being a Mott fan first — once I got to be friends with him, I would always ask him about things, pepper him with questions. You’ll get the stories from him, but he’s really more about the present and the future.
“I don’t think he expected to enjoy this as much as he has. When the offer came, he was like, ‘Why not? Sounds like fun.’ But it has been so much fun, and that’s why these shows have been added. No one expected it to be as vibrant as it is, without feeling dated. For him, it’s like going back and maybe getting the feeling that, yeah, it was valid.”
According to Mastro, rehearsals will begin a week prior to the opening show on April 1 in Milwaukee. “We have last year under our belt, so we kind of know what to expect,” he said.
Setlist-wise, the group is leaning on The Hoople and Live, but will certainly play signature tunes such as “All the Way From Memphis” and “All the Young Dudes.” (The latter song, an anthem for Mott fans, was written for the group by Bowie.)
“The obvious songs will be there,” Mastro said. “There is a setlist, but it’s not as deep as the Rant Band, where we have an arsenal of 70 songs to draw from. And of course, we’re focusing on that period more. But every night, there will be a few changes and surprises.”
Was Mastro a Mott guy as a kid?
“Mott was my band,” he said. “They’re the reason I wanted to play the guitar. Definitely.”
Mark Voger writes about pop culture on his website, MarkVoger.com.