MR BIG, The Answer @Wulfrun Hall, Wolverhampton 23/11/2018


Mr Big defy everything in Wolverhampton 

Touring with Mr. Big and Faster Pussycat (who thanks to the early start time MV doesn’t see) presents The Answer with a problem. Not, you understand, nerves or a lack of skill – The Belfast four have played on bigger stages than this and have a back catalogue the envy of many – but something else is troubling Cormac Neeson. “When we got on this tour,” smiles the singer. “We realised the other bands had a ballad. We panicked, then we remembered we had one”.  With that, they start “Strange Kinda Nothing” and Neeson is right. It’s gorgeous. Elsewhere, their performance is one of a band that sounded reinvigorated on last year’s “Solas” record and the vibe carries on here. They start with the title track from that album and if those more experimental swirls are what they want to be, then make no mistake, what they are brilliant at being is the bluesy rock n roll band of “On And On” and “Preachin’”. “Faith Gone Down” explores the blues a little more with its flashes of harmonica, while members of Faster Pussycat appear for Rose Tattoo’s “Rock N Roll Outlaw” as if to highlight the atmosphere on tour. As things end and the anthemic “Spectacular” gives way to a riotous “Under The Sky” you are left wondering as ever just why their name isn’t top of bills like this. Because life is cruel, is perhaps the only Answer here.

Often, when watching bands that were big in the late 1980’s, the only thing they still have is the name and maybe one original member. Credit, then to Mr Big, who are here with a full complement. That includes drummer Pat Torpey who is suffering with Parkinson’s Disease these days, but is here to play the odd song and do some percussion, assisting Matt Starr who is on the kit – not for nothing was their motto “no man left behind”.

But then, Mr Big were always a little different to their peers. The musicianship they had – Paul Gilbert on guitar and Billy Sheehan on bass are as good as it gets –  set them apart.

They are still doing it better too, their post-reformation albums have added to their legacy. This years “Defying Gravity” not least in that, and as such, it is no surprise that a good portion of tonight’s mammoth 2-hour set is from this decade. Not many outfits of their ilk would have the bravery – or the songs – to do that.

They start with an old one, though. “Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy (The Electric Drill Song)” is a timely reminder of how good they were. There are others. “Green Tinted Sixties Mind, “Wild World”  and “To Be With You” were worldwide mega hits for a reason.

But then, the “…..Gravity” songs are just as much fun. “Damn, I’m In Love Again” is almost country, “Everybody Needs A Little Trouble” is as rabble rousing as you could hope for, but the key to this evening is in the chorus of the quite brilliant “1992”. Thought about a girl that I once knew/Put her in a song with some greens and blues,” sings Eric Martin – who can still control a crowd after all this time – “Wore somebody’s shirt that I didn’t choose/But the fans were screaming, so I couldn’t refuse/Record company said to us, thank you, man/Then they threw us right into the garbage can/But the good people listened, and they pulled us through/I was number 1/ In 1992”.

Those words, sum up the struggles of a band in the grunge era when you just ain’t hip perfectly, which is why the fact they are still here and still writing songs like “American Beauty” to full crowds like this, must be of great satisfaction. Both Gilbert and Sheehan get the chance to show their ability with solos, but there’s enough in mid period stuff like “American Beauty” to make tonight about songs rather than wizardry.

There’s a couple from the first record too and “Addicted To The Rush” sounds fresher than a song from almost 30 years ago should. The same could – and should – be said about Mr. Big.

Rather than one of the classics, the night ends with a new one. “Defying Gravity”, and a better metaphor for tonight you won’t find. They might have been number one in 1992, but Mr Big want to be relevant in  2017 and beyond.

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