A Friday night in Buffalo – Oct. 17, 1973, to be precise.
It’s fall, getting colder and already dark by the time the throngs arrive at Kleinhans Music Hall, emerging from cars where they had been doing lord knows what to keep the encroaching chill at bay, or dropped off by their parents in the vicinity of Symphony Circle, doubtless clad in denim despite the wind, or perhaps adorned in the fashion frippery of the then-burgeoning American version of the British glam-rock scene.
David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust is just a year old at this point, after all. And tonight’s concert is being headlined by pals of Bowie’s, a band held by many to be the perfect glam-rock group, an outfit capable of marrying glam’s sartorial splendor to tough, working-class rock ’n’ roll roots – Mott the Hoople.
By this point, Mott the Hoople has already released its now-classic “All the Young Dudes” album, its title track a gift from Bowie, who also produced the record. Fronted by vocalist/guitarist Ian Hunter – who, not so coincidentally, will headline the “Feed the City” concert at the Town Ballroom on Saturday – the band also included guitarist Mick Ralphs, who would go on to considerable fame with Bad Company by the mid-’70s.
As the reigning kings of glam, Mott had managed to embrace the genre’s excess in terms of garb, presentation, mild gender-bending and abundantly cool sunglasses, without coming off as trend-hoppers. It made sense, then, for the band to to be paired with a new buzzworthy outfit known as the New York Dolls, a group whose members – David Johansen, Sylvain Sylvain and Johnny Thunders most prominent among them – looked like aging drag queens but played a molten form of garage rock that would be known as punk rock by 1976 or so. The New York Dolls were then on the ascent, but they were freaks with serious drug issues, and they’d never fully deliver on their promise before imploding. (This did nothing to tarnish the myth that surrounded the group almost from the beginning, mind you. The Dolls, minus Thunders, who died of a heroin overdose in 1991, reformed in 2004 at the behest of Morrissey, a slavish fan, who had the band perform as part of the annual Meltdown Festival he was curating that year.)
Third on the bill was a then-unknown five-piece from Boston. A group with a rubbery-lipped lead singer who looked a bit like Mick Jagger, sang better than him, and draped himself around his Keith Richards look-alike guitarist with a druggy androgyny that was punk before punk existed. This Yardbirds/Rolling Stones/James Brown hybrid called itself Aerosmith.
This hard-to-believe triple bill is memorable not just for its ticket price ($4.50, which, even when adjusted for inflation, is an unbelievable bargain by today’s standards) but for the fact that so many in attendance would go on to have a major influence on Buffalo’s arts culture – mainly, though not exclusively, on its music scene.
There in the front row was the late Mark Freeland, the iconoclastic musician, artist and provocateur who would give us Electroman, Pegasus, the Fems, a wide variety of solo guises and collaborations, and an immense body of beautifully idiosyncratic artworks, in the process providing the living blueprint for what it meant to be an independent artist in Buffalo. Freeland’s memories of that evening are preserved on www.markfreeland.com.
“After school, in 11th grade, Kent Weber and I were getting ready for a concert. Mott the Hoople, The New York Dolls, and a yet-unknown Aerosmith were playing and we had front row seats. Then my friend Jamie Moses called ... asking if I wanted to party with the Dolls.
“We raced to the Holiday Inn, all dressed in the camped-out glitter statement of the moment. The hour I spent with the Dolls that day changed my life. At three in the afternoon, I drank... from a Bali Hai wine bottle that was one half warm wine, and one half Johhny Thunder’s [backwash].”
Ahhh. To be young and invincible.
Freeland would soon be leading what should be understood as a rock music renaissance in and around Kenmore shortly after this night at Kleinhans. In a 1996 story in The News, Freeland describes the milieu: “We competed against each other with amps, not footballs. The whole school was in a band. The only ones who weren’t in bands were the people carrying the amps, or driving the vans to go put up posters ... At Kenmore, kids would gather for assembly, sit down in the auditorium and watch Pegasus cover [Jethro Tull’s seminal prog-rock album] ‘Thick As a Brick’ for 45 minutes ... That was fourth period, to us.”
Freeland’s friend Kent Weber went on to a lengthy career in Buffalo independent bands, among them Pegasus, Nullstadt, the Fems, the Dollywatchers and dozens of others. He still performs regularly today.
Jamie Moses, the friend of Freeland’s who offered him the opportunity to meet the Dolls, went on to found Artvoice.
Terry Sullivan, who would soon front the Jumpers, the Restless and many others, was also at Kleinhans that night.
“That show was pivotal for me,” Sullivan says. “It literally changed my mindset regarding the entertainment aspect of rock ’n’ roll shows. It put me in a position to utilize my tools and make the most of my dreams. That show is in my mind whenever I’m entertaining an audience, to this day.”
The show was presented by Festival East. Michael Montoro, who now runs the BPO Nation concert series at Kleinhans, partnered with Harvey Weinstein for the presentation of this particular package of bands. Montoro recalls being happy with the turnout, even though it wasn’t a sellout. “Glam was still new then,” Montoro says. “Buffalo was still a meat and potatoes, mostly hard-rock town. They wanted Humble Pie and Creedence Clearwater Revival! Not dudes in makeup!”
Montoro went on to a long career in the music business. Weinstein didn’t end up doing too badly, either.
“Shows like that Mott/Aerosmith/Dolls one at Kleinhans were incredibly inspiring to people,” says Montoro. “I’m not at all surprised that so many people who were there on that night went on to make their mark in the world of music and the arts.”
What: Feed the City benefit with Ian Hunter
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Town Ballroom, 681 Main St.
Tickets: $28 advance, $35 day of show