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MR BIG, Shepherds Bush Empire, 20 September 2011
back together to stay, melodic rock 'supergroup' Mr Big returned to the
venue where they made their UK comeback in front of an adoring audience
two years ago.
The sense of
occasion was somewhat less this time, and being part of a UK tour rather
than a one-off, and a Tuesday rather than a Saturday, the Empire was far
Incidentally, the poor sightlines downstairs at this venue always annoy
me - despite being six foot and in a good place around 10 rows from the
front, I could not see the guitars, only the upper bodies of those
wager that a higher than normal proportion of the crowd were also
musicians themselves, as Mr Big are very much a musos band, possessing
ridiculous technical ability.
Gilbert, looking rather otherworldly in an outsize pair of headphones,
has immaculate, seemingly effortless technique and is just as capable of
playing concise riffs as rapid flurries of notes.
sets Mr Big apart is the partnership between him and bassist
extraordinaire Billy Sheehan, who plays it as a lead instrument as the
two regularly trade ever faster lines off each other. Pat Torpey's
contribution should also not be ignored, his subtle and creative
drumming a joy to watch.
Sadly - even
though he still comes over as rock's answer to Peter Pan - time seems to
have been less kind to singer Eric Martin. I am a long time fan, but in
the words of Brian May - spotted in the balcony smiling and applauding
heartily during the set - he is just a shadow of the man he used to be.
clear, his voice sounded rather strained and weary and on occasion he
seemed to duck out of singing the words. Sometimes he was heavily
reliant on the harmony vocals of the other three, or - as on one of the
few ballads in the set, 'Just Take My Heart', the crowd.
the way he rather huskily spoke between songs suggested he may have been
under the weather, although he had also been below par when I saw him on
the reunion gig.
with 'Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy', complete with Billy and Paul
playing their trademark electric cordless drills, and indeed reprised
the opening three songs from their best album 'Lean Into It', following
with 'Alive and Kicking' and perhaps their strongest song, 'Green Tinted
wondered whether they might be celebrating its 20th anniversary by
playing the whole album, but late last year they returned with a fine
comeback, 'What If', and - just as the sound belatedly became louder -
played the lead single from it, 'Undertow', with an insidious melody
that grows on you, and the more frantic 'American Beauty'.
All in all
half a dozen new songs were dotted throughout the set, and though for me
they are short on memorable hooks, the likes of 'Once Upon a Time' and
'As Far as I Can See' were very well received and certainly did not have
people heading to the bar as new songs often unfortunately do.
It' was well represented with the swampy grooves of 'A Little Too Close'
and the now rarely played 'Road to Ruin' although surprisingly it was
well over an hour in before we heard anything from their first album in
'Take a Walk'.
Like it or
not, you know that Mr Big will want to show off their musical prowess,
so there was an instrumental- preceded by some great harmony singing, a
Paul Gilbert solo slot and an interminable jam in the middle of 'Price
You Gotta Pay'. Even Billy was unable to make a five minute bass solo
interesting for a non-musician like me, but the upbeat closer of
'Addicted To That Rush' was worth the wait.
As usual the
first encore saw Eric introduce the band before saying 'I'm the one that
wants 'To Be With You', and I looked round to hear people with big
smiles singing along lustily to their biggest - and completely untypical
- hit, before they showed the other side of their repertoire with a
frantic 'Colorado Bulldog'.
the ultimate in musical showing off, as Paul took to the drum kit,
playing in a much more robust style than Pat who himself had switched to
bass, Eric cranked out the riff to 'Smoke On the Water' and Billy took
sounded pretty respectable, and you could barely see the cracks as they
swapped again half way through, with Pat singing, Eric on bass and Billy
perhaps, but the enjoyment on their faces made it hard not to enjoy, and
there was still time for the old Talas song that Billy took with him to
Dave Lee Roth's band, 'Shy Boy', which was simply a fun way to end a 2 ¼
hour set with him and Eric sharing the vocals.
quibble with the quality of the singing, or with some of the
instrumental self indulgence, but this show proved beyond doubt that,
when it comes to technical proficiency in the melodic rock world, Mr Big
live up to their name.
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