Mr Big, Download Second Stage, June 11 2011

The reunion of Mr Big, following one of the most acrimonious splits in classic rock history, was already one of the most talked about subjects of 2011 before the band’s appearance at Download.

In the wake of a truly mesmerising set, thanks to the fretwork of Paul Gilbert and Billy Sheehan, the band responsible for some of the bluesier moments of the hair metal movement have suddenly become the ultimate comeback kings. 

New album What If… had seriously whetted the appetite of fans looking to add some meat to the bones of the late 80s/early 90s revival and this incendiary show provided a feast of fine musicianship and memorable melodies.

It takes something special to overshadow a singer of Eric Martin’s class and experience but both Gilbert and Sheehan – individually and as a duo – are quite capable of upstaging the man behind the mic. In fact it’s no exaggeration to describe Gilbert as the finest guitarist to strut the Donington stage across the festivals’ three days.

If you haven’t got your hands on a ticket for one of their UK headline shows later this year then do so – fast. Because when word gets out about Download’s band of the weekend they’ll be flying off the shelves faster than Gilbert’s giant retro ear phones.

All the favourites sounded fresher than the proverbial daisy and on this evidence it became quite clear that monster hit To Be With You is nowhere near the best thing Mr Big ever did. The blues rock bombast of Undertow, from the latest record, or the classic Green Tinted Sixties Mind (three-and-a-half minutes of vintage Gilbert) are the true measure of this band’s massive potential and their glorious past.

Mr Big might well have been mocked at their commercial peak but, freed from the pressures of conforming to the hair metal scene, their roots as blues rock musicians par excellence mean this band can finally flourish. They might never sell as many records but more genuine classic rock fans are guaranteed.

Simon Rushworth