POP MUSIC REVIEW : Ian Hunter Resurfaces With Splash and Mick Ronson


In the 20 years since he burst on the rock scene leading the late, often-great Mott The Hoople, Ian Hunter has had his share of musical ups and downs, putting together extraordinary albums and tours, then sometimes reappearing with relative clinkers.

He is resurfacing again with a series of Southland shows, and the one he performed Tuesday at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano strongly suggests that he is on the “up” side of that pattern.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt Hunter’s latest rally to have an ace in the hole--or, in this case, on the guitar--in longtime sidekick Mick Ronson, who seemed to be at the top of his game. Ronson maintained a low profile, never saying a word to the crowd, content to let his guitar do the talking. But not for nothing is this group billed the Hunter-Ronson Band.


Lest anyone think the show was merely a trip down memory lane studded with Mott and solo-Hunter nuggets, the pair--backed by a taut, swinging rhythm section and keyboardist--not only introduced a large batch of new tunes but played four of them within the first five numbers.

It is hard to say which was more impressive: how well the old stuff holds up, coming across as lean, sharp and wholly contemporary; or how good the new stuff sounded, from the tender, floating ballad “Following in Your Footsteps” to the scorching blast of rollick ‘n’ roll “You’re Never Too Small to Hit the Big Time.”

Meanwhile, the classics that framed the set proper--Hunter’s “Once Bitten Twice Shy” and Mott’s “All the Way From Memphis”--roared along with a smart, feisty vigor that eludes many of the best newer bands.

Hunter looked no worse for wear--in fact, with that long mess of curls surrounding the ever-present shades, he looked pretty much like he always has. More important, his playing (alternating between keyboards and guitar) and singing was as solid and expressive as ever.

Age hasn’t been quite as kind to Ronson--physically anyway. But the guy remains an amazing guitar player: He has the chops to play anything but also possesses the taste to understand that a few well-chosen notes yield much better results than a flurry of fret-grinding any day. If Ronson and Hunter have a record deal, the forthcoming album should be one hot item; if they don’t, some smart, adventurous A&R; guy should sign them today.

Opening act the Forgotten Rebels is a different story. The group has a record deal, which may or may not make sense because, as horrible bands go, it is pretty good.

These four Canadian lads seemed to revel in the fact that they were terrible--other than bad songs, worse lyrics and weak musicianship, there didn’t seem to be any real problems--in the same way that singer Mickey DeSadist enjoyed regaling the crowd with incredibly raunchy jokes and limericks.

With that kind of between-song patter, willful incompetence, song titles such as “Surfin’ on Heroin,” the Rebels must be playing the whole career for laughs, fully embracing that “we’re-so-bad-we’re-good” ethic. If so, everything’s going according to plan.

The Ian Hunter-Mick Ronson Band and the Forgotten Rebels return tonight at 8 to the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. Tickets: $18.50. Information: (714) 496-8927.