Big occasions demand Big characters and you won’t find four bigger than Eric Martin, Billy Sheehan, Paul Gilbert and Pat Torpey.
This quartet of Big egos, responsible for a string of Big hits (musical and physical), might not always have seen eye to eye but with differences settled – on the surface at least – and a fresh creative spark there’s a real buzz about the reformed US band.
The standout act of 2011’s Download Festival and boasting a blinding album in the shape of What If…, Mr Big’s UK tour stopped off in Newcastle on a mission to maintain momentum. Ultimately it was mission accomplished.
Come the end of a scintillating two hour-plus set, allowing all four musicians the opportunity to showcase their particular talents, it was clear that this second coming is no contrived get rich quick trick.
Incredibly, given their explosive past as sworn enemies, Martin and Sheehan even managed to engage in some on-stage banter and exchange the odd pleasant look. A far cry from the warring 90s it seems Mr Big are a band reconciled and refocused – taking every advantage offered by another tilt at success.
After a blast through Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy (The Electric Drill Song) Gilbert’s mesmerising Green Tinted Sixties Mind finally drew in any lingering latecomers caught out by the atypically early start. Stunning fretwork and a pitch perfect Martin vocal set the tone for a spectacular evening of rock heaven.
Undertow and American Beauty, from the remarkable What If…, might only be familiar to the enlightened few for now but their heavier, bluesy tones bring Mr Big’s sound bang up to date while staying true to the band’s 70s influences.
Ballad Just Take My Heart still sounds like a chart topper today – even if it failed to break the Top 10 on either side of the Atlantic back in 1992 – but As Far As I Can See, released 19 years later, is every bit as good.
Watching Gilbert and Sheehan’s instrumental joust on Donington’s second stage was a festival highlight and here, again, the lofty duo brought smiles to the faces of those present with a cheeky, cheery jam so well rehearsed it looked entirely off the cuff.
For all the historical tension you won’t see a more relaxed and, at the same time, professional outfit on the rock circuit and there was enough within a rich and varied set to engage wide-eyed musicians and casual observers alike.
Wrapping up the main set with a supercharged version of Addicted To That Rush, Mr Big had, of course, saved that song until the encore. When it came, To Be With You was a brilliant, albeit brief, highlight.
Better, though, than the band’s smash hit US number one single, was a brilliant version of Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water. With all four members jumping into a game of musical chairs, Gilbert played drums, Martin took hold of the guitar, Torpey grabbed the bass and Sheehan reminded us of that great rock voice. Then, as Gilbert stayed put, it was Martin’s turn to play bass, Sheehan’s opportunity to belt out a guitar solo and Torpey’s turn to emerge as the fourth great singer on the night.
Ending it all with Humble Pie’s 30 Days In The Hole – with particular emphasis placed on the Newcastle Borwn reference – Mr Big pledged a swift return to Tyneside. Given their chequered past, such a promise may well prove to be a hollow one but even if this is the beginning of the end (again) it’s something special to store away in the vault of unique rock memories.