Gig review: MR. BIG – Koko, Camden, London, 17 October 2014

MR. BIG - Koko, Camden, London, 17 October 2014

Mr Big’s European tour to capitalise on their back-to-form new album ‘Stories We Could Tell’ squeezed in just a solitary UK show, their first in three years. It was unsurprising that the opulent surroundings of Koko were sold out, perhaps more surprising that younger fans – many doubtless followers of Paul Gilbert’s guitar tuition videos – were just as much in evidence as us forty somethings who were there in the band’s heyday at the turn of the nineties.

It was also a tour tinged with sadness after the announcement that drummer Pat Torpey was in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease and having to step away from live duties, but as it turned out it was to prove a very special evening.

The ‘supergroup’ have the reputation for being a muso’s band and yet the statistic that they squeezed 23 songs into a sub 2 hour set tells its own story that noodling solo slots were kept to a minimum. It is almost as if the rigid 10pm curfew at Koko imposed that discipline on them.

What also struck me was the lightness of mood and the sense of fun they were having with Eric Martin ever the affable frontman (even taking the rise out of his own awful Cockney accent) and Paul and bassist Billy Sheehan sporting big grins throughout.

MR. BIG - Koko, Camden, London, 17 October 2014

They clearly believe in the new album and led with the opener ‘Gotta Love The Ride’, back to back with old favourite ‘Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy’ which had the crowd punching the air, particularly the trademark sections where Billy and Paul played with cordless drills.

Many established bands struck to a tried and tested routine of hits and a few tracks from whatever album is being promoted at the time, but the way they reeled off a double from 2011’s What If, the rapid fire ‘American Beauty’ and ‘Undertow’, not to mention obscurity ‘Out Of The Underground’,   suggested they would not just take the easy crowd pleasing route.

MR. BIG - Koko, Camden, London, 17 October 2014

That is not to say old material was ignored, with ‘Green Tinted Sixties Mind’ as ever a great example of how Paul’s virtuoso guitar arpeggios could be fused into a commercial song and ‘Rock and Roll Over’ a rare dip into their debut album.

It was noticeable though that on some of the more frenetically arranged older material Eric’s otherwise still excellent voice was feeling the pace and he was indebted either to the backing vocals of Billy and Paul or letting the crowd sing part of the song.

MR. BIG - Koko, Camden, London, 17 October 2014

After a trademark guitar and bass duel, Eric introduced an old favourite with the words ‘and Pat Torpey is still Alive and Kicking’, bringing down the house as the erstwhile drummer came on cheerfully, and was able to augment the sound with percussion.  His replacement, Yul Brynner lookalike Matt Starr, was solid and powerful if perhaps not such a subtle drummer and got his moment in the spotlight with the interesting drum patterns of ‘Take Cover’.

After newer songs such as ‘Forget To Breathe’ and the punchy ‘As Far As I Can See’ went down well, there was a change of pace when they broke out the acoustic guitars, with Pat adding backing vocals, for ‘Wild World’ which stayed true to Cat Stevens’ masterful spirit, and my own favourite from the new album, the beautiful ‘East/West’.

MR. BIG - Koko, Camden, London, 17 October 2014

Movingly, Pat was then able to take over on drums for a couple of mellower numbers in another goodie from the new album, ‘Fragile’, with a sweet solo from Paul, and the classic ballad ‘Just Take My Heart’ which had a group of younger fans to the side of me roaring their hearts out.

In the best fashion having taken the pace down, it changed up again with a rapid fire, Van Halen-esque ‘Around The World’ giving Billy and Paul the opportunity for some not too indulgent jamming, before breaking into debut favourite ‘Addicted To That Rush’, with Eric leading some audience participation.

MR. BIG - Koko, Camden, London, 17 October 2014

For encores he introduced the band before his trademark shout ‘I’m the one that wants to be with you’, and though well received I wondered whether this gentle folky ballad alters the wider perception of them to this day in the same way that Europe or Extreme are stigmatised by the one song.  As if to prove it wasn’t typical, the title track of the new album – making it six new songs by my reckoning – and a furious ‘Colorado Bulldog’ spoke more to a hallmark Mr Big sound.

The po-face musician stereotype was confounded once and for all when they swapped instruments – Paul to drums on which he was annoyingly good, Eric to bass, and Billy to guitar for a fun cover of ‘Living After Midnight’ with Pat doing a respectable version of a crazed singer in a metal covers band.

A more conventional cover of the Free track they eponymously named themselves after closed proceedings,  though I was surprised Billy neither played a longer bass solo, nor ended with the old Talas classic ‘Shy Boy’.

But that would be churlish to pick hole s- this was a great night and a moving one to see Pat Torpey so much involved. It not only showed Mr. Big as great musos, but an entertaining live act who love performing and do not take themselves too seriously.

Review and photos by Andy Nathan

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