Review and photography by John Hayhurst

American Classic Rock comes to Newcastle in the form of Mr Big who are here to promote their new album Defying Gravity and to dish out a masterclass of guitar work and top power ballads.

Mr Big

First lesson of reviewing (and gig photography) is be prepared and get there early. I failed, well technically I did get their early, doors were 6:30pm but parking in Newcastle on a Friday night is at a premium, and there are events on at the City Hall and elsewhere within the Northumbria Uni campus. As a result I walk in to the venue at 7pm and miss the majority of the opening band Faster Pussycat. However, I’m not sure what I missed as it looked like the sleaze rockers from Hollywood had worn themselves out in 20 mins and Taime Down the lead singer looked very tired and had maybe had a few too many pies whilst in the UK. Having watched a 69 year old Alice Cooper own a stage earlier in the week, anything shock or glam rock is going to fall significantly short I’m afraid.

The Answer on the other hand are a different matter, an Irish Blues based band who have been gigging for quite some years and they show it. Frontman Cormac Neeson in his floppy hat, long hair, beard and a big grin is quick off the mark to settle things down and they open quite softly with ‘Solas’, the title track off their last album. It’s a slow burner and unusual choice to warm up a crowd, nevertheless it shows a more mature edge than the Pussycats that went before them.

The Answer-2

The Answer-4

We go back in time slightly with ‘Preachin’ and they are on to a winner with a cover of Rose Tattoo’s ‘Rock n Roll Outlaw’ which they dedicate to George Young producer and older brother of Malcolm and Angus Young of AC/DC fame, he sadly died in October. (Note: At the time of this concert it had not been announced that Malcolm Young had also passed away). The Answer had previously toured with AC/DC and this show tonight turned into a more rock than some of their folky output. A single ballad track ‘Strange Kinda’ Nothing’ being the only non rock’n’roll tune.

Mr Big-8

Neeson is an enigmatic frontman and is constantly working the crowd using a call and response technique well, and this Geordie crowd are loving it. Newcastle citizens love their rock and metal, particularly the blues and The Answer are exactly that, it is what they came here looking for. A singer with the vocal style of Paul Rogers or Chris Robinson and a guitarist in Paul Mahon who can deliver some fierce riffs and fret runs to make many an amateur stare in wonder.

Mr Big-5

Classic Blues Rock makes way for American Power Ballads. Mr Big were a band I saw in ‘91/’92 and at the time they were the antithesis of the new Grunge movement oozing from Seattle. Nirvana and Pearl Jam had just released their huge albums ‘Nevermind’ and ‘Ten’, and Mr Big released ‘Lean Into It’ which was chock full of hair metal, catchy choruses and a couple of ballads destined to accompany lighters being held aloft in arenas all over the world. That didn’t quite work out as planned but they had some success and a few years of touring before the fractures became breaks and the inevitable split had to happen. Time passes, wounds heal and nostalgia becomes a commodity easily sold, but the one thing Mr Big had was a huge pedigree of talent to back up the reformation.

Mr Big-13Mr Big-11

James Brown is playing on the speakers as the stage goes dark, and yet from my front position I can see Eric Martin dancing around like an extra from the Jackson 5, they are pumped up and ready, blasting into ‘Daddy Brother Lover Little Boy (The Electric Drill Song)’, the opening track on the ‘Lean Into It’ album. The first thing that grabs your attention is Eric Martin doesn’t seem to have aged a bit apart from the long hair is now a little shorter and more fashionable, the 20-year break has been kind to him as he struts around in his black skinny jeans, scarf and converse boots. Similarly, Paul Gilbert is not showing signs of slowing down, and as Eric hands him the power drill he proceeds to play the guitar with it like a frustrated B&Q employee in their lunchbreak.

Paul is by all accounts an incredibly talented guitarist and likes to show off his skills as often as possible, so for any guitar enthusiast this is where you get a masterclass in speedy fretwork, at times it borders on too fast for my liking but that shouldn’t put you off. He has a range of pain threshold expressions, mainly wide open mouthed, but occasionally stretching to the barefoot standing on lego agony face.

Mr Big-7

Billy Sheehan on bass has a pony tail which is probably thinning every year, not quite at the Francis Rossi stage but not far off. His bass playing though is still unparalleled, no wonder David Lee Roth wanted him to partner Steve Vai for his 1st couple of solo albums, the talent is far removed from the usual plod and run bass play, it demands to be seen up close to appreciate the technical ability.

After a couple of more recent tracks ‘American Beauty’ and ‘Undertow’ we are introduced to the final piece of the Mr Big jigsaw (and not another power tool) – Pat Torpey. Pat is the original drummer in the band but he is sadly suffering from Parkinsons disease, so he has relinquished the main drummer role to Matt Starr. However, the band wouldn’t be here without him, so he has his own mini standing kit and tamborines, and is able to offer his great vocal harmonies with the rest of the band.

Mr Big-6

The crowd shout “Pat…Pat..Pat” and it’s a heart-warming moment when he does finally sit behind the full drum kit for ‘Just Take My Heart’, which is one of the big 2 slower songs for the night and the crowd here are in full power ballad mode with hands in the air singing the chorus with gusto. It is a sight to see here in Geordieland watching several big hairy blokes singing “Just take my heart when you go, I don’t have the need for it anymore”.

Mr Big-3

Having said that I was probably doing exactly the same! and I’ll admit I punched the air when the opening guitar noodling of ‘Green Tinted Sixties Mind’ started. My favourite Mr Big tune and performed with superb accuracy to the album version, harmonies and Eric Martin’s blues tinged voice were amazing and a highlight of the night right there.

With accomplished rock musicians, you will always get the need to include a solo section, and as we have 2 here with extensive pedigrees, we have to indulge in a bass and a lead guitar solo spot. I’m not a fan of this and it just feels a little over the top, but it provides the opportunity for a bar break or a toilet stop, so I’m all for it. This is Classic Rock, expect the pantomime!
Mr Big-4

A cover of Cat Stevens ‘Wild World’ gets a great reaction and then we also have the ‘To Be With You’ moment, an acoustic perfect version and as expected the biggest crowd interaction. Throughout the set we are peppered with new tunes from their album ‘Defying Gravity’ and they save the title track for the end of the show, nicely rounding off a great night of music.

Mr Big are back, they have some new ‘Defying Gravity’ tunes and continue to defy the aging process too with tons of power and energy, it’s not all about the ballads.


The Answer:
On and On
Faith Gone Down
Rock n Roll Outlaw
Strange Kinda’ Nothing
Come Follow Me

Mr. Big:
Daddy Brother Lover Little Boy (Electric Drill Song)
American Beauty
Alive and Kickin’
Just Take My Heart
Take Cover
Green-Tinted Sixties Mind
Everybody Needs a Little Trouble
Price You Gotta Pay
Open Your Eyes,
Wild World
Damn I’m in Love Again
Rock & Roll Over
Around the World
Addicted to that Rush
To Be With You
Colorado Bulldog
Defying Gravity

Lean Into It [1991]
Defying Gravity [2017]

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