Ian Hunter is now 73 years old, so it’s no wonder that his show last Saturday nigth at the Paradise had a bit of an elegiac tinge. But there’s always been a bit of looking back to Hunter’s music, even as he was living the moments he was singing about — what, after all, of his monster 1973 Bowie-penned anthem “All the Young Dudes”? “Billy rapped all night about his suicide . . .You don’t want to stay alive when you’re 25” Or his remembrance of longtime bandmate Mick Ronson, “Michael Picasso.” There were always songs about the transitory rock-and-roll life that was quickly becoming the past tense even as he was living it. But Hunter is never maudlin or sentimental – as his songs and his nearly two-hour show at the ‘Dise made clear. “… Back in nineteenseventy whatever-the-fuck it was,” as he said in one of his song introductions.
Hunter looked in good shape, in signature outfit: shades, dark vest, plaid shirt, and that halo of now-white hair. And there was very little stage banter. He segued rapidly from one song to the next, covering Mott the Hoople, his solo career, his fine new album When I’m President (Slimstyle). The music was mostly a fetching mix of honky-tonk boogie piano matched with soaring rock guitar leads (the prototypical “All the Way from Memphis”), big-build bass-drum climaxes, the occasional oomph of Wurlizter-style organ, and bits of Celtic-folk mandolin, with Hunter himself moving between piano and acoustic guitar.
The voice, with that Dylan-esque phrasing, had a bit of a rasp to it, but Hunter was game from the get-go, opening with the new album’s, “What For,” and then barking out “Once Bitten Twice Shy.” The camaraderie and seasoned craft of the band was a boon, especially when they huddled around Hunter at center stage to sing, on “Saturday Gigs”: “Take the Mick out of Top of the Pops/we play better than they do!” Hunter sang, “I’m surprised you’re still here, and I’m surprised I’m still here too” to the mostly older crowd. Surprised, and glad. The encore of “Dudes” was a hearty sing-along for the whole room.