Mr. Big defied expectations with HRH Mag Top 50 album Defying Gravity and this month has seen the band test that new material on the road. HRH Mag’s Simon Rushworth checked out a genuine supergroup with much more than one chart-topping ballad under their belts.
It’s a brave call. Play your biggest hit 20 minutes before the end of the set and there’s a risk that a good number of paying customers will take the chance to catch last orders at their local, catch the last bus home or catch up with mates in the corridor outside.
And almost as soon as Mr. Big wrapped up 1992’s To Be With You a sizeable proportion of a healthy Friday night crowd revealed they’d rather be with someone else. It’s not as if Northumbria’s Institute emptied. But big gaps appeared and there was suddenly room to breathe.
Pity. The final three songs of a simply sublime set were as god as anything that had gone before – two were culled from the band’s brilliant new record Defying Gravity and both deserved due prominence in a show that featured four decades of scintillating songwriting.
To Be With You might have earned Mr. Big the big bucks but it’s also become the albatross around this classy quartet’s (or quintet now that Pat Torpey shares drumming duties with Matt Starr) neck. Its global success casts a constant shadow over so much of a back catalogue that remains criminally ignored. It’s an evocative ballad but it’s far from the band’s best song: Undertow, Damn I’m In Love Again and Colorado Bulldog proved the point as three unlikely standouts on Tyneside.
The sound, throughout, was on a different level and it’s a mystery why more promoters don’t push their bands through the Institute’s door. Eric Martin might have complained he was shot by the end of a full-blooded two-hour assault on the senses but his voice never wavered. Paul Gilbert’s masterclass in fretwork was typically mesmerising and Billy Sheehan must be the only bass player in the world who can get away with such a self-congratulating solo. Just seeing Torpey on stage made hearts soar and Starr holds everything – and everyone – together.
It’s a genuine privilege to see so much talent on one stage. There’s not a weak link where Mr. Big is concerned. Even the band’s wonderfully measured version of the Cat Stevens classic Wild World was top drawer. And Defying Gravity is proof that 25 years after To Be With You there’s still plenty of creative fuel left in the tank.
Sure, any one of Mr. Big could fly solo and soar. But these guys belong together. They share a special bond and an intuitive sense of what makes their band tick. And they’re well worth missing that last bus for.
Exclusive Images By HRH Mag Chief Photographer John Burrows