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Shepherd's Bush Empire, London 12 September 2009

The current fashion for bands reuniting shows no sign of abating, but I was rather taken by surprise with the ease with which early 90’s melodic rock 'supergroup' Mr Big sold out their first UK show in 15 years at Shepherds Bush Empire. Even more surprising was the number of younger people, presumably fans of respected guitar hero Paul GIlbert, alongside those of us who were into them first time round.

The years rolled back as they opened with Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy, with Paul and bassist Billy Sheehan playing their trademark solos with electric drills, and Take Cover from the underappreciated Hey Man album, before throwing in two of their strongest numbers early on in Green Tinted Sixties Mind and Alive and Kicking.

However, nostalgia was not the only order of the day- new song Next Time Around was impressive, and the band visibly had a blast covering Hold Your Head Up.

For my money though, ever youthful singer Eric Martin was the weak link - on songs like Just Take My Heart he sounded rougher and a bit tired compared to his original crystal clear delivery.

Moreover his contrived comments between songs, not to mention his bouffant hairstyle and bright green t-shirt which gave him the air of a 1970’s C and A catalogue model, had an air of cheesiness to them.

The irony with Mr Big had always been that Billy, Paul and drummer Pat Torpey were virtuoso musicians in their own right, but these tendencies were reined in for a straight ahead commercial approach.

But in concert they were given full latitude to play a number of jams and solo slots; while the musicianship was immaculate it made for a frustratingly fragmented mid section of the gig.

The highlights- the Zep-influenced Take a Walk, their cover of Wild World, Whole World Is Gonna Know and Rock and Roll Over with Paul reeling off a typically effortless solo - were somewhat buried among the self-indulgence.

Eventually a lengthy bass solo from Billy led to the band finally rocking out again with Addicted to that Rush, with snatches of Lazy and One Way out.

The encores rolled along at a much faster pace, beginning with To Be With You, their big - and untypical hit - and the rapid fire Colorado Bulldog.

A cover of Baba O’Reilly again showcased their musical ability before - after Eric held up a fan request - Shy Boy from Billy’s days with David Lee Roth closed a 2 hour plus set.

It wasn’t the perfect return, but it is great to have them back and showing off their undoubted talents.

Review by Andy Nathan

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