Paul Gilbert @Newcastle Riverside, September 17 2019

Quirky is being kind when describing Paul Gilbert’s rather bizarre rendition of A Herd Of Turtles. But the Riverside crowd had been warned by way of a perfectly whacky preamble.

Gilbert happily explained that it was Johnny Cash who had inspired him to pen a rare piece of poetry but that, on reflection, its delivery required his best attempt at a Ringo Starr accent. The guitar part, he went on to reveal, was part James Brown and part Bachman Turner Overdrive.

To say the finished product – a fusion of furious riffs and faux Scouse spoken word – was eclectic doesn’t really do the whole experience justice. You really had to be there.

You had to be there for a glorious medley of Carry On My Wayward Son, Runnin’ With The Devil and While My Guitar Gently Weeps: Gilbert’s technique of using the lead guitar for the lead vocal parts is a wonder to behold and worked best on Kansas’ 1976 classic.

You had to be there for the subsequent mash-up of U2’s (Pride) In The Name Of Love and Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love. And you had to be there to soak up the sheer variety of mind-boggling material culled from new long player Behold Electric Guitar – including the aforementioned A Herd Of Turtles and the equally curious I Own A Building.

Gilbert might be best known as the drill-wielding fret burner at the heart of early 90s MTV darlings Mr Big but this was never going to be a show paying homage to the band that pays his bills. A perfunctory take on 1991’s Green Tinted Sixties Mind (the single released before global chart topper To Be With You) offered a respectful nod to a glorious past but Gilbert is about much more than big hair and radio friendly hooks.

In 2019 he’s about pushing the envelope and pulling the kind of pantomime faces that would make Lee Evans squirm. Behind a pair of heavy-framed black glasses lie two overworked eyebrows (an in-joke and another reason why you had to be there) which, in turn, protect one of modern rock’s most intriguing brains.

In the past Gilbert might have lacked the confidence to leave everything out there – crazy chord progressions, daft anecdotes and dizzying displays of self-centred soloing – but the recently relocated Portland native appears at one with himself and unwilling to compromise.

Beautiful in its brazen simplicity, a colossal cover of Gonna Fly Now (Theme From Rocky) provided an early highlight but those looking for standout moments simply didn’t know where to turn next.

Surrounded by a classy band of equally instinctive musos, Gilbert barely stopped smiling – his infectious enthusiasm repaying the faith of fans hanging on every note.

Even the mid-set sales pitch proved to be oddly affecting as the main man held aloft a vinyl copy of his latest opus and a limited edition Blu-Ray before pointing the masses to his mate on the merch stand. Too much? Not at all. You had to be there.

Images By Adam Kennedy