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REVIEW: EXTREME & MR BIG- MELBOURNE


Extreme and Mr Big. Forum Theatre,  Melbourne June 6, 2018

Review by Joshua Batten. Photos by Jason Rosewarne

Mention the band names Mr. Big and Extreme to the average person, and they probably won’t know what you’re talking about. Sing them a couple of bars of their respective top ten hits “To Be With You” and “More Than Words” and they’ll probably show some knowledge. But tonight, while most of those average people are tuned into State Of Origin, 2000 die-hard rock fans are packed into the Forum Theatre for a double bill everyone wanted, but no-one thought would happen.

Extreme and Mr Big certainly have their fair share of similarities – Hard Rock bands inspired by the likes of Queen and Van Halen, they both begun their careers in 1989 before having two massive acoustic top ten hits all over the world from their second albums in 1991 (Including Australia, where “To Be With You” and “More Than Words” reached #1 and #2 respectively). They’ve both incorporated technical proficiency into catchy tunes, have broken up, reunited and kept most of their classic lineups intact (the exception in both cases being the drummer). With quite an overlap in fan bases, it only makes sense that they’ve joined forces for a double headlining tour of Australia, the first in 25 years for Extreme and the first ever for Mr. Big.

Mr. Big took to the stage with James Brown playing over the PA, and wasted no time in getting straight into a super-fast rock & roll vibe with their traditional opener “Daddy, Brother, Lover and Little Boy”, complete with electric drill solo. The energy in the room was immediately obvious, as everyone was singing along. As the show continued, the band drew from their vast catalogue, mixing newer songs like “Undertow”, “Everybody Needs A Little Trouble” and “Open Your Eyes” with classics like “Just Take My Heart”, “Alive and Kicking” and “Green Tinted Sixties Mind”.

Lead guitarist Paul Gilbert and bass guitarist Billy Sheehan are renowned players in their respective fields the world over, and tonight was a masterclass of epic proportions. Both Gilbert and Sheehan playfully competed for the audience’s attention during the songs before they each had solo spots later in the show. Gilbert’s ‘solo faces’ are second to none, and for every super-fast moment of shredding, there was another where his guitar just screamed with bends while he made the appropriate face to back it up. His solo spot was definitely more on the rhythmic side, utilising a stomp box to keep the audience engaged and incorporating riffs from “Highway To Hell” and Mr. Big’s own “The Whole World Is Gonna Know”.

Sheehan on the other hand took the opposite approach to his solo. A flurry of notes, bends and super-fast harmonics kept the crowd engaged despite a lack of rhythm. At the end of his solo, he and Gilbert traded licks over a familiar disco beat, before launching right into “Addicted To That Rush”, arguably Mr. Big’s signature song aside from “To Be With You”, which was played immediately after and had everybody singing.

Props as well to singer Eric Martin, who did the entire show in a jacket and scarf and still managed to hit the high notes. Drummer Matt Starr kept a solid rhythm throughout, with the unenviable task of filling the shoes of drummer Pat Torpey, who passed away earlier this year due to complications from Parkinson’s. Closing out with the intensely rumbling “Colorado Bulldog”, Mr Big left the stage in triumph, setting the bar high for Extreme to follow.

Despite earlier claims that Extreme would be trying to cover all their albums equally on this tour, they know what’s popular and what the people have come to hear. The focus was largely on their 1991 breakthrough album Pornograffitti and its follow up 3 Sides To Every Story. The show began with three back-to-back songs from Pornograffitti (“It (‘s a Monster)”, “Lil’ Jack Horny” and “Get The Funk Out”), all of which got a great reception from the crowd. During these first few songs lead singer Gary Cherone and guitarist Nuno Bettencourt showed off their chemistry and respective showmanship, with Gary being the animated, energetic frontman and Nuno the straight up rocker.

A mini-acoustic set followed featuring Nuno on 12 string guitar and the whole band at the front of the stage playing “Tragic Comic” and the “39”-esque “Hole Hearted”, which was extended out to get everyone singing a call and response with Gary. The acoustic goodness continued with Nuno’s solo spot – the hypnotic drop D shred-filled number “Midnight Express”, played as a way of “Paying the bills”, since Nuno joked that they were only getting paid by the note.

Drummer Kevin “K-Fig” Figueiredo has studied with previous Extreme drummer Mike Mangini, but their styles couldn’t be more different. K-Fig looked like he was having the time of his life on the drums, bashing out fills and rhythms with twice as much intensity as Matt Starr. Bassist Pat Badger may not be as technically skilled as Billy Sheehan, but he still had a distinct pick-based style and a rich, full tone.

As the rhythm section headed offstage and Nuno sat back down with his acoustic guitar, all the iPhones came out for a massive singalong of “More Than Words”. After taking a moment to single out Baby Animals guitarist Dave Leslie in the crowd (The Iron Maidens’ Courtney Cox was also in attendance tonight), Nuno feigned disappointment and annoyance before going into a flawless performance of his signature solo “The Flight Of The Wounded Bumblebee”. Unfortunately time constraints meant that the follow up song “He-Man Woman Hater” had to be abandoned after a few bars, and the band launched straight into the final song of the night “Decadence Dance”. Another energetic performance and a perfect closer to keep spirits high. The band stayed onstage for a good five minutes to shake hands with the front row before the lights finally came up and people stared heading off.

In today’s current age of classic rock bands either calling it a day or trying to carry on without the energy or members required to pull it of, tonight was a reminder that there are still great rock & roll bands out there making it work, and to see them together on one bill was amazing value for money. Hopefully it won’t be too long before Mr Big and Extreme return to Australia with new albums in tow, so if you haven’t seriously checked out either bands’ catalogue, I highly recommend it.

The reviewer Joshua Batten is a Melbourne based singer, songwriter, guitarist. His new album is ‘Searching For Answers’

 

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