As the old football cliché goes, “form is temporary, class is permanent”. Not quite as snappy as “jumpers for goalposts”, but still it paints a vivid picture. The same could be applied to American rock “supergroup” Mr Big, a classic bend of commercial hard rock and staggering musicianship that has never gone out of fashion. When they reformed after a seven year hiatus, the class was still there for all to see, but could they still cut it as a live act? Damn right they can! Not many acts from their era sound as good as Mr Big still do today, but play a two hour set? Inconceivable!
After a very early (and short) set from Faster Pussycat, special guests The Answer took to the stage. They’re no slouches, having been around the block a few times since the early noughties, most notably opening for AC/DC on their Black Ice world tour. Last years ‘Solas’ album was quite a departure, as the band dropped some of the more blues-rock aspects to their sound in favour of a darker, more layered sound. The title track from the album opened the show after the ‘Irish Rover’ intro tape, the sole representative from a divisive album. Instead, the set is made up of nuggets from previous albums, ‘Come Follow Me’, ‘Preachin’’ (love the slide work from guitarist Paul Mahon), ‘On And On’, ‘Spectacular’ and the slower, bluesier ‘Faith Gone Down’, which features vocalist Cormac Neeson blowing a mean harmonica. The sad passing of Malcolm Young has led to many memorable tributes. As mentioned before, The Answer spent a considerable amount of time on the road with AC/DC, and Neeson takes time out to offer a heartfelt tribute to a “great mentor”. This is followed up with a gutsy rendition of ‘If You Want Blood’, with the crowd raising a glass to a genuine legend of rock music. Who knows where the road will take The Answer next, but the fanbase is definitely still there, no matter what.
Mr Big kick off an incredible twenty one song set with, what else but, ‘Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy (The Electric Drill Song)’, taken from the 1991 breakthrough release ‘Lean Into It’. The hair might be shorter, and the leaping about throwing shapes might have slowed down, but the chops are still there. With the exception of Lemmy and Geddy Lee, it’s not very often you find your eyes drawn to the bassist, but Billy Sheehan makes it impossible to look elsewhere. The in-demand “baddest motherfucking bass player on the planet” is a joy to watch as his fingers fly over the strings. Jaws drop open, tongues fall out, and drool drips like Homer Simpson thinking about donuts… and that’s not even from the serious musos in the crowd. The harmonies that made Mr Big stand out in the 90’s are still prevalent, as are the drills that Sheehan and Paul Gilbert use on their guitars. ‘What If’ was the first Mr Big album after their reformation in 2009, and the pair of ‘American Beauty’ and ‘Undertow’ are quickly aired and prove that the studio album was no fluke. Eric Martin sounds amazing, his voice still capable of purveying the emotion and heartbreak that helped make Mr Big such a formidable force in the 90’s. Drummer Pat Torpey was cruelly diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease a few years back, and has had to relinquish the drum stool to Matt Starr, but it’s great to see Torpey when he comes on to help out on a few songs. It’s actually heartbreaking, but at the same time heartwarming, watching Torpey react to the response from the crowd as he tackles this horrible disease head-on. We wish him well with his battle, but he can rest easier knowing that his stand in is making him proud with his formidable playing.
With a setlist spanning three decades, there truly was something for everyone, ‘Addicted To That Rush’ and ‘Colorado Bulldog’ provided the speed for the rockers in the crowd. Jeez, Sheehan and Gilbert are fast, but technique and feeling are not forsaken for speed, especially on the latter. Mr Big are of course well known for their ballads, or softer moments, and ‘Just Take My Heart’, ‘Green-Tinted Sixties Mind’ and the monster hit ‘To Be With You’ are all met with huge applause, phones lighting up the darkness. Everyone is recording as the band roll back the years. Hell, even Alan Nimmo from King King has his phone up in the air! More than a nostalgia act, Mr Big have a cracking new album to plug, and ‘Defying Gravity’ is well represented. ‘1992’, ‘Everybody Needs A Little Trouble’, the acoustic foot stomper ‘Damn I’m In Love Again’, and the title track are all the sound of a band still very much with something new to offer. Solos are expected, and both Sheehan and Gilbert show why they are so highly regarded by fans and peers alike. Sheehan is beyond superlatives, and as for Gilbert… you have got to respect a dude that can juggle two guitars during his solo (which contains a few bars of ‘Back In Black’). As the clock nears the 11pm curfew, the stage suddenly gets more crowded as both Faster Pussycat and The Answer pile on for a rip-roaring version of the Humble Pie classic ’30 Days In The Hole’. The perfect way to end an incredible evening.
Review: Dave Stott
Images: Dave Jamieson