The third annual Feed the City Benefit went down in the Town Ballroom on Saturday.
The Western New York Food Bank benefit concert was headlined by Ian Hunter, who was joined by his band of more then a decade, the Rant Band.
Hunter is a rock legend. As the frontman with Mott the Hoople, he helped to define glam rock, though Hunter was always more raw rock ’n’ roll than made-up glitter star. Since Mott’s early ’70s heyday, Hunter has maintained a prolific and artistically incisive solo career. His reputation brought out a large and enthusiastic crowd to the Town – all in the name of raising money for our city’s Food Bank.
The Town was converted into a warm and amiable hang session, as the club’s front room was turned over to a silent auction featuring unique rock memorabilia. Signed posters for the evening’s concert sat alongside autographed drum heads signed by all three members of Rush, large prints of photos shot at Buffalo concerts – from Springsteen to the Tragically Hip – and rare pieces of LP vinyl. Members of the music community – so many bands were represented – flooded the place.
The relaxed air pervaded through sets from Buffalo’s own Brackenwood and Toronto’s the Ruby Spirit. The latter offered a stunning set, a startling upgrade on its fiery set at the harbor last summer. This band keeps getting better. Its blend of ’70s New Wave and modern indie-rock is highly infectious, and Saturday’s performance drove these songs home with considerable energy.
The band’s set found its highlight in “Evolution Sickness,” a gorgeous and epic pop song the band recorded at Robby Takac’s GCR Studios recently. Tight, rhythmically dynamic and bolstered by inventive chord progressions, the Ruby Spirit is clearly a band with major festival gigs in its future.
The Pillagers, a vigorous pub rock band fronted by vocalist Gary Zoldos – one of the event’s organizers – tore through a sweaty set that paid homage to Joe Strummer, Willie Nile and Bruce Springsteen. “Hurt Again,” a snarling rocker with a nice descending chord progression, was the set’s highlight.
Hunter, who took the stage shortly before 10 o’clock, offered a lengthy set that was energetic, virtuosic and roughshod in equal measures. Backed by his Rant Band, Hunter looked and acted far younger than his 73 years, his head of abundantly curly hair hanging over his trademark dark shades. “Show Me What You Got” found Hunter at the microphone sans his guitar. The song laid the template for what was to come – rock ’n’ roll, ringed by soul and R&B, with a glimmer of the old glam. “Once Bitten Twice Shy” followed, and Hunter was by then banging the hell out of an amplified acoustic guitar. The song’s indelible greasy shuffle had the crowd raising its fists; the crowd was largely older than 40 and, considering such, was rowdy and way into it.
There were Mott the Hoople hits, certainly, but Hunter needn’t look too far back to find some of his finest work. Much of the set was culled from his 2012 album with the Rant Band, “When I’m President.” Soulful, mature, but still rocking like a mule kicking in the stalls, Hunter’s more recent albums have been consistently excellent. His band is a roots-rock ensemble equal to the best of them, too.
As great as his own songs are, and as passionately as they were delivered Saturday, a cover of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” was delivered as Mott the Hoople was covering the Velvet Underground. Jubilant, all of it. This year’s Feed the City was a success, and that success hints at future bookings on par with an artist of Hunter’s stature.