CD Review of In Performance 1970-1974 by Mott the Hoople
Mott the Hoople: In Performance 1970-1974
Recommended if you like
Rolling Stones, Faces,
New York Dolls
Label
Angel Air
Mott the Hoople:
In Performance 1970-1974

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

I
t’s a shame, really. A group that clearly deserved to be labeled one of the best bands Britain ever produced is, in the minds of many, a forgotten relic, a group wholly defined by its one claim to radio fame, "All the Young Dudes." Ironically, Mott the Hoople’s collective career was skidding towards disaster even before David Bowie came to the rescue and brought his "Dudes" with him. Not that they didn’t make an admirable attempt to turn the tide, given the fact that Mott previously produced four excellent albums that should have allowed them to reap them their rewards. Sadly though, even after Bowie’s fateful intervention, the band felt little residual effect from topping the charts, even though their follow-up, Mott, remains one of the greatest examples of Brit rock excess ever recorded.

Rather than allow them to languish in undeserved obscurity, Britain’s formidable Angel Air label has attempted to bring them belated glory via a series of reissues and archival offerings. With the reintroduction of their early Island albums, each bolstered by bonus tracks, as well as a spate of live recordings culled from various sources, they’ve given opportunity to revisit Mott’s legacy and bestow the respect and recognition that eluded the band originally.

Although it runs the risk of redundancy, Angel Air’s latest initiative, the limited edition In Performance 1970 – 1974, compiles the cream of Mott’s live output from a prolific period that spans the expanse between their self-titled debut and their ill-fated send-off, The Hoople. Collectors ought to note, however, that nearly all these tracks – the handful of demos on disc three included -- have been previously released via earlier Angel Air incarnations. Regardless, any one of the set’s four discs can easily outshine the lackluster Mott Live album issued by Columbia, making these recordings the best choices for those eager to observe the sound of Mott’s stage shows. And though the quality of the recordings varies, the edge and intensity stays intact, generally frayed and tattered on the fringes with an equal quotient of melody and mayhem throughout. "This group’s about to wreck your mind," the emcee bellows as he opens disc one, and given the intensity of the performances that follow, his words prove prophetic.

That said, Mott themselves remained remarkably consistent, all but ignoring any hint of subtlety and nuance either in their overall approach or the choice of tunes. Although their repertoire adhered to the standard ‘70s template – raspy, raucous vocals, dueling keyboards, searing lead guitar, and a frenzied rhythm section, all plied by musicians in platform shoes and glam rock regalia – they also offered reverence to their roots in their choice of covers, from the more obscure ("Long Red," an early showpiece by Mountain) to standard pop fare (Sonny Bono’s "Laugh at Me," a makeshift medley incorporating "Jumpin’ Jack Flash" and "Satisfaction" and off-the cuff renditions of American Pie" and "Sweet Jane"). However, over time, they refined their sound, taking more of a pastoral view for Wildlife and then adding muscle to their melodies with Mott, the commercial crest of their career. The box’s best moments come courtesy of offerings from both these albums, but all the others are represented as well, courtesy of a shifting line-up that served as support for Ian Hunter’s vocals and songwriting. The expansive biographical narrative, personal anecdotes and rare photos contained in the box’s booklet provide all the essential details, making this outstanding career compendium all the more impressive.

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