Manhattan Beat: Mott the Hoople ’74, Tony Bennett, Nick Lowe, The Foreign Resort

Mott the Hoople ’74/The Beacon Theatre/April 10, 2019

A British band formerly known as Silence became Mott the Hoople in 1969 when Ian Hunter joined as vocalist and pianist. The new band name was taken from the title of a Willard Manus novel about an eccentric who worked in a circus show. Lacking commercial success, Mott the Hoople was on the verge of splitting in 1971 when a fan, David Bowie, offered the band “Suffragette City” from his then yet-to-be-released Ziggy Stardust album. The band passed on the song. Bowie then wrote “All the Young Dudes” for Mott the Hoople and it became the band’s biggest hit; Bowie also produced the accompanying 1972 album of the same name. Keyboardist Morgan Fisher and guitarist Luther Grosvenor joined Mott the Hoople in 1973, though for contractual reasons, Grosvenor changed his name to Ariel Bender for his stint with the band. About 1974, Hunter left to form a duo with Mick Ronson, so the remaining members called themselves first Mott and later the British Lions but did not achieve commercial success and split in 1978. Hunter and Ronson worked together until Ronson’s death in 1993. Hunter then launched the Ian Hunter Band and later Ian Hunter & the Rant Band. The original Mott the Hoople reunited for seven concerts in 2009 in the United Kingdom and five concerts in 2013. Mott the Hoople ’74 formed in 2018, featuring Hunter, Bender, Fisher, guitarists James Mastro and Mark Bosch, keyboardist Dennis DiBrizzi, bassist Paul Page, and drummer Steve Holley.

The Mott the Hoople ’74 that performed a tour-closing set at the Beacon Theatre consisted of three members of the band’s 1974 lineup plus members of Hunter’s band. Hunter is the sole remaining member from the All the Young Dudes sessions. Nevertheless, it was the first time in 45 years that Hunter, Bender, and Fisher performed together in New York City. Together the musicians and the audience celebrated the band’s glam rock era yet gave the vintage songs a fresh workout. A highly animated Bender frequently stole the spotlight with his flashy leads and dynamic movements, but Hunter was in fine voice, Fisher was masterful at the keyboards, and the rest of the band created a healthy new environment for the treasury of old songs. After a 1972 audio recording of Bowie’s introduction of the band, Mott the Hoople ’74 started with a cover of Don McLean’s “American Pie” leading into “The Golden Age of Rock ‘N’ Roll,” and from there it was two hours of solid, old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll, so much so that the closing medley consisted of 11 classic tunes. Finally, the last song of the encore was “All the Young Dudes,” which included cameos by Jakob Dylan of the opening act, the Wallflowers, and Hunter’s son, Jesse Hunter. All these dudes are not so young, but they sure did rock.

Tony Bennett/Radio City Music Hall/April 13, 2019

Born and raised in the Astoria section of New York City, a 10-year-old Anthony Benedetto sang at the opening of the Triborough Bridge in 1936 standing next to Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, who patted him on the head. He began singing for money at age 13, performing as a singing waiter in several Italian restaurants around his native Queens. As a U.S. Army infantryman, he saw combat during World War II and sang with the 314th Army Special Services Band. In 1949, Pearl Bailey asked him to open for her in Greenwich Village; Bob Hope was in the audience, took Benedetto on tour with him, and simplified his name to Tony Bennett. As a crooner of pop, jazz, big band, and show tunes, Bennett enjoyed multiple hits songs in the 1950s and early 1960s, then enjoyed a comeback starting in the late 1980s when his music was marketed to the MTV generation rather than the Las Vegas circuit. Bennett has won 20 Grammy Awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001, and has sold over 50 million records worldwide. His 57th and most recent studio album, Love Is Here to Stay, with Diana Krall, was released on September 14, 2018.

Radio City Music Hall seems to be Tony Bennett’s home stage thanks to his annual engagements there. This time, he performed with a simple jazz quartet (pianist Billy Stritch, guitarist Gary Sargent, bassist Marshall Wood, and drummer Harold Jones), foregoing lush arrangements for a bare-naked set that emphasized the beauty and power of his unique 92-year-old vocals. None of his famous duet partners (no Diana Krall, no Lady Gaga) showed, and the staging featured no flashy lighting or props. It was Bennett au naturel, much like you might find in a cozy jazz bar, except this was New York City’s largest auditorium. The lights dimmed, Frank Sinatra’s pre-recorded voice praised Bennett, the lights came on and Bennett strolled on stage. Bennett’s early bel canto vocal training has preserved his voice through seven decades, and it was a marvel to behold.

His rich, earthy vocals were epic and powerful through Michel Legrand’s “Watch What Happens,” George and Ira Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,” and Fred Astaire’s “I’m Old Fashioned.” He sang some of his best-known songs, including “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” a medley of “Rags to Riches,” “Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me),” “For Once in My Life,” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Every song was re-interpreted, such that no song sounded exactly like its recorded version. The jazz combo enriched the songs with refined instrumental breaks. Personable and charming in his between-song anecdotes, Bennett framed the songs in their history. Most importantly, however, he punctuated many of his songs by gliding and hitting the high, dramatic crescendo notes. He may not have held them as long as he did in his younger years, but nevertheless, this feat in itself was both startling and monumental. This Tony Bennett performance was a master class in vocal talent, style, sophistication, and artistry.

Nick Lowe’s Quality Rock ‘n’ Roll Revue/The Bowery Ballroom/April 13, 2019

In Suffolk, England, Nick Lowe began his musical career in 1967, when he joined the band Kippington Lodge with his school friend Brinsley Schwarz. They renamed the band Brinsley Schwarz in late 1969 and began performing country and blues rock. Lowe left Brinsley Schwarz in 1975 and in 1986 began a solo career as artist and producer, most notably Elvis Costello’s first five albums, the Damned’s first album, the Pretenders’ first single, and Graham Parker’s first and third albums, and also played bass in rockabilly/pop rock quartet, Rockpile, co-led with guitarist Dave Edmunds. Rockpile split in 1981, and Lowe toured in 1982 and 1983 with his band Noise to Go, and in 1984 and 1985 with the Cowboy Outfit. In 1987, Lowe was also a member of the short-lived Little Village with John Hiatt, Ry Cooder, and Jim Keltner. In 2009, Cooder and Lowe toured as a duo. Periodically, Lowe performed solo acoustic sets. Since 2014, Lowe has been touring with Los Straitjackets  (guitarists Eddie Angel and Greg Townson, bassist Pete Curry, and drummer Chris Sprague) as his band. Following Lowe’s 14 solo albums, his most recent product is a four-song EP with Los Straitjackets, Tokyo Bay, released on June 15, 2018; their Love Starvation/Trombone EP will be released on May 17, 2019. Currently, Lowe lives in London, England.

Billed as Nick Lowe’s Quality Rock ‘n’ Roll Revue Starring Los Straitjackets at the Bowery Ballroom, the performance featured Lowe singing with support from the luchador-masked, surf-rocking Los Straitjackets. Curiously, the match clicked, as the band took ownership of the songs even as Lowe fronted. Lowe sang pop melodies but most of his familiar songs now had a vintage country, rockabilly, or Americana roots twist. This aged flavor did not draw a curtain on Lowe’s pop sensibilities, but it did establish that Lowe was not frozen to the same place where he was in the nineteen-seventies. He had not divorced himself entirely from that era, however, as he gave the audience what it came to hear: “So It Goes,” “Cruel to Be Kind,” “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock ‘n’ Roll),” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.” His final encore was a solo acoustic version of Elvis Costello’s “Alison.” In the end, Lowe proved that he was a credible rocker with roots.

The Foreign Resort/The Red Party at Mercury Lounge/April 13, 2019

Vocalist/guitarist Mikkel Jakobsen, bassist Steffan Petersen, and drummer Morten Hansen had played in death metal bands in their native cities in Denmark when they came together as the Foreign Resort in Copenhagen in 2009 to play something different. Influenced by noise rock and shoegaze, their experiments in music unconsciously led them to gothic, dark wave, and post-punk sounds. The band name was inspired by Jacobsen’s two and a half year residence in Israel, which he saw as his foreign resort. The Foreign Resort’s sixth studio album, Outnumbered, was released on April 5, 2019.

The Foreign Resort headlined at the 12th anniversary of the Red Party at Mercury Lounge, a night that also included a performance by Astari Night. The Foreign Resort provided a hard, throbbing, angular anchor to the monthly gathering of goths and post-punks. As a power trio, much of the music was driven by guitars (Jakobsen and Petersen occasionally switched instruments) and their chorus, reverb, delay, and fuzz effects. Several times, pre-recorded sounds seemed to be surreptitiously added to thicken the band’s wall of sound. The band’s rapid-pulsing rhythms were almost hypnotic in that, rather than building to a crescendo, the repetition of simple waves built tension and explosive release. The music seldom climbed scales except when Jakobsen’s melancholic vocal modulation framed a song. This created an overall dark, swirling effect that was as menacing as it was mysterious. The Foreign Resort’s performance was shadowy, edgy, and riveting.