A band you thought you knew; an American rock & roll city with a past that may surprise you: These two reissues come from different lands and eras — Britain just ahead of glitter; a Texas where punk was just getting started — with the same fire and attitude.
Mott the Hoople, Mental Train: The Island Years 1969–1971 (Island/Universal)
For a band lasted a little over five years, the British hard rockers Mott the Hoople managed to squeeze in two golden eras: the one everybody knows, which kicked off in the summer of 1972 when David Bowie handed them a 45 rpm lifeline with the glam-revolution anthem “All the Young Dudes”; and the one that too few people know, a fury of progressive-rock ideas, brass-knuckled application and Ian Hunter’s working-class English-Dylan vocal attack over four albums in the three struggling years covered by this box set.
Named and produced by the lunatic studio savant Guy Stevens, the original Mott — guitarist Mick Ralphs, organist Verden Allen, bassist Overend Watts, drummer Dale “Buffin” Griffin and Hunter, the last to join on piano and guitar — made luminous trouble, arming the jump and innocence of early rock & roll with the exotic afterburn of psychedelia and the looming force of metal on the late-1969 U.K. debut Mott The Hoople and the swift 1970 followup Mad Shadows. As the main writers, often in collaboration, Hunter and Ralph combined brawny menace and bracing melodicism, blessed with an engine room at once taut and relentless. Some of the tracks across this span got on FM radio in America: the serial explosions of “Thunderbuck Ram” on Mad Shadows; Ralphs’ bright U.S.-tour memoir “Whiskey Women” on 1971’s Wildlife; the dark side of the hippie era that Hunter brought to the Youngbloods’ “Darkness Darkness” on ’71’s Brain Capers. The ones that didn’t get on air still astound: the brawling-Stones rush of “Walking With a Mountain” on Mad Shadows; the fast, feral glee in “The Moon Upstairs” on Brain Capers with its immortal lines, “We ain’t bleeding you/We’re feeding you/But you’re too fucking slow.” New York punks the Dictators used to cover that one live — small wonder.
The two-plus hours of live and studio bonus material that enrich this telling run from the very beginning (a fragment of Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” Hunter’s audition piece when he first sang for the others in 1969) to early versions of songs they carried to their Bowie-triggered resurrection — “One of the Boys”, a prototype of “Momma’s Little Jewel,” both with more formative snarl. On the eve of what Hunter assures will be the last-ever Mott tour — with the surviving members of his ’74 glam gang, guitarist Ariel Bender and pianist Morgan Fisher — it is worth taking a step back to this incisively written, brilliantly detonated mayhem. The best rock & roll stories have glorious endings. Here is one with a roaring, enduring start.
Various Artists, Live at Raul’s (Steadyboy)
Raul’s was open for loud-fast business in Austin, Texas — CBGB with a Lone Star drawl in a pocket-sized bar near the University of Texas campus— when I got to pay a visit in late 1979. I was in town to cover a bizarre New Wave event: Blondie performing on the U of T football field for a scene in the daffy 1980 rock movie Roadie (with Meat Loaf as the title character). The real buzz was at Raul’s that night. Roky Erickson, vocal shaman of local psychedelic icons the 13th Floor Elevators, was holding strange court (he asked me if I had my ticket for the ride to Mars, leaving soon). And I am near-100 percent certain that the band onstage that night was the Explosives, a buzzsaw trio that practically lived at Raul’s.
Like CBGB, Raul’s issued a live album touting the leading edge of its city’s punk scene, taped in a single day — September 16th, 1979 — and issued in time for me to buy one on that trip. But where Live at CBGB’s lacked most of the bands that made it famous, Live at Raul’s — reissued on vinyl by Explosives drummer Freddy Krc’s label to mark its 40th anniversary — caught Austin at a rough, jubilant peak. The Explosives would become Erickson’s backing band as he emerged in second flower, from years of acid damage. And the Skunks were local garage-pop stars with a reputation that drew Patti Smith and Elvis Costello to join them onstage when those stars passed through Austin. (In the next decade, guitarist Jon Dee Graham joined another glorious guitar army, the True Believers, with Alejandro Escovedo.)
Also raising a ruckus: glam-ish roughnecks the Next, the jittery-Wire trio Terminal Minds and Standing Waves, a quintet with Blondie-like keyboards. You hear a more innocent time and place in these performances — when punk was still a vengeance, not a fashion, and keeping Austin weird was not a problem. Forty years after I originally bought Live at Raul’s, that city is still here.