20 September 2011
Shepherds Bush Empire, London
After an impressive set at Download this summer, anticipation was high for a full length Mr Big show at the Shepherds Bush Empire. With no support act, it really was a full length set too, with the band performing for a full 2 hours and 10 minutes.
Many people hold a false impression of Mr Big due to them breaking big with the acoustic ballad, To Be With You.It’s follow up single Just Take My Heart was also a ballad and for many Mr Big were pigeon-holed as a ballads band. However, those unknowing among the million-plus that were drawn to buy the album from which those two songs were drawn, Lean Into It, were in for a rude awakening. Whilst Mr Big retained a melodic sensibility, hard rocking virtuoso songs made for the bulk of the album.
It’s that album that kick-starts the set with its first three songs played in succession. Indeed given it’s the discs 20th anniversary it wouldn’t have been out of place to play the whole thing. Opener Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy added within parentheses “The Electric Drill Song” for a reason, with vocalist Eric Martin handing out the drills to bassist Billy Sheehan and guitarist Paul Gilbert for the solo section.Aside from the exemplary playing Mr Big are also known for having four very good singers and they combine for a crowd pleasing Green-Tinted Sixties Mind.
Mr Big had set the bar high with that opening and I was unsure how they would match it. In fact, the set felt like it drew breath after the frantic opening and turned into something of a slow burner, gradually pulling you in.
Last year’s comeback album What If was an impressive return and the six songs aired from it tonight slip seamlessly into the setlist. American Beauty unsurprisingly follows a familiar vibe, given it has origins back in 1989; Once Upon A Time is built on an odd time signature and As Far As I Can See presents the most commercially friendly sound. Stand out of the new bunch however is Around The World which, aside from a hooky chorus, features a riff where Sheehan and Gilbert race to keep up with each other that just screams obscene when you marvel at their abilities.
Often solos can bore crowds to tears, but there’s no rush for the bar when either Paul Gilbert or Billy Sheehan step forward. Gilbert in his trademark headphone monitors whizzes lightly around his fretboard, whereas Sheehan looks like he’s grown extra fingers as he engulfs his instrument in a flurry of tapping. I’d have probably paid the entry fee to see Sheehan’s solo alone in retrospect.
The two big ballads mentioned at the start of this review of course make an appearance.Just Take My Heart goes down a storm, as does To Be With You, but it’s when put the latter next to all Mr Big’s other material that you realise how different it is.
From one extreme to the other, Colorado Bulldog followed with impressive stick work from Pat Torpey. It was then time for the band to take showing off to a whole new level with a cover of Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water. That may sound odd, but not when it features the band switching instruments and still dazzling. We start with Martin on guitar, Torpey on bass, Gilbert on drums and Sheehan taking the microphone. In time for the solo it was switch time with Sheehan taking on the solo on guitar, Martin moving to bass and Torpey impressively taking the song home on lead vocals.
There’s still time for one more and in a move from the usual setlist, by popular request Talas’ Shy Boy closes the show.All in all a fantastic evening’s entertainment from a bunch of very talented individuals.
Mr Big setlist:
Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy / Alive and Kickin’ / Green-Tinted Sixties Mind / Undertow / American Beauty / Take Cover / Just Take My Heart / Once Upon a Time / For You / A Little Too Loose / Road To Ruin / Temperamental / Paul Gilbert Solo / Still Ain't Enough For Me / Price You Gotta Pay / Take A Walk / Around The World / As Far As I Can See / Billy Sheehan solo / Addicted To That Rush / To Be With You / Colorado Bulldog / Smoke On The Water (band switched instruments) / Shy Boy