Mr. Big with The Answer and Faster Pussycat
Manchester Academy – Manchester, UK – 21 November 2017
Another eclectic tour package is what I thought when these dates were first announced. Musical virtuoso and melodic rockers, Irish Zeppelin rockers, and eighties sleazy hair metal. On entering, there was a healthy audience in terms of numbers in the largest of the Academy venues.
First on stage was Faster Pussycat. I mean, every rock fan of my vintage has a copy of their classic debut album in their collection. I have only managed to previously see the band once a few years ago in Belfast. With the ever-rotating lineup at that time, it did leave me considerably less than impressed. However, reviews from the current tour had been universally positive, so I was quite optimistic. With a set largely based on that aforementioned debut album, the band could do no wrong in my eyes anyway. A sadly too brief six-song set with “Babylon”, “Cathouse”, “Don’t Change That Song” and “Bathroom Wall” all were featured. It was instantly clear that singer Taime Downe – the sole remaining band member from that classic debut – had retained a fine set of pipes. The sound was crystal clear for the opening band of the bill, as many fans of a certain vintage were briefly transported to a bygone time and era. The ballad “House of Pain” from the band’s second album release briefly lowered the fast rocking tempo with a ballad. The remaining band members did a solid job in backing Downe’s vocals both in terms of backing vocals and also in retaining the sonics of the original songs. Short and very sweet set which served as a great warm up on a cold Manchester night for an ever-increasing rock audience.
Next up was ever-shining Northern Irish sons, The Answer, now past their tenth anniversary of delivering quality country and blues-based hard-edged rock. I have been lucky enough to see the band on a variety of different sized stages over the years. From small clubs to playing the main stage of various festivals. One thing that the band always delivers is entertainment through Cormac Neeson’s distinctive and always emotive vocals, to the solid rhythm section ably provided by bassist Michael Waters and drummer James Heatley. Unfortunately, the mix from my vantage point resulted in Neeson’s vocals being totally swamped by the bass for the majority of the set. Moving to a different position rectified that, and I was able to benefit from hearing a much crisper sound from stage center. Kudos respectfully earned by guitarist Paul Mahon who was afforded his own solo spot. A few tracks from the band’s recent release Solas illustrated their development in terms of the band’s sound as they have totally evolved significantly. A respectful tribute was paid to the recently departed Malcolm Young of AC/DC with The Answer’s version of the classic, “If You Want Blood”. This was much more than just another wheeled out standard tribute, as The Answer are previous touring partners of AC/DC. Indeed, homage was personally paid to the legendary Aussie band for their advice and guidance during those early fledgling learning days for The Answer. Another set that quickly flew by and it was clear from the subsequently loud reception afforded to them that The Answer had won over many new converts amongst the Mr. Big fans in Manchester.
Finally, it was the moment that I had been particularly looking forward to as this would be the first time that I would have seen the legendary Mr. Big live. Booking my front of stage spot slightly between Eric Martin’s mic stand and Paul Gilbert’s effects setup, I was good to go. Opening with “the Drill song” as many like to term it was a high-octane energetic way to kick off the show. Indeed, the tempo retained a high energy level throughout the two-hour set. The band, unlike many of their peers, have continued to deliver high-quality album releases rather than choosing to rest on former laurels earned in another musical era. While the talents of Sheehan and Gilbert are widely acclaimed, I feel that credit should also be paid to Eric Martin and the drumming duo of Torpey/Starr. They are also quality players and their contributions helped the audience to fully appreciate the collective skills of Mr. Big as a band with quality songs and not just a vehicle which showcases soloists.
The setlist was a solid combination of both new songs which appeared to sit effortlessly amongst the band’s better-known numbers. Torpey, in particular, appeared delighted that the band had still saved him a role in the lineup despite his physical trials and tribulations with his medical condition. He performed backing vocals on the majority of the set, in addition to playing a short set also on drums.
Guitar and bass solos were subsequently delivered as expected and it’s to the talents of the individuals that audience attention and engagement was retained throughout. Credit indeed not easily earned, as I myself come from a generation where every show featured a solo from every single band member in the headlining act. Hence, it’s fair to say that between myself and the rest of the audience who have been going to gigs since the eighties, we have certainly seen more than our fair share of instrumental musician solos.
Encore time saw singer Cormac Neeson of The Answer join the band for a rousing version of “Thirty Days in the Hole”. A solid night’s entertainment when all bands played and delivered great sets. Credit must be given to the tour promoters for putting together this quality package which definitely left me very impressed and very exhausted.
All photos © Jack Barker