As the crowd hurried into Thebarton Theatre to escape the cold Adelaide winds, there was a strange feeling of fellowship amongst the mostly Gen Xers. Neither of the bands—nineties hard rock stalwarts Mr. Big or funk-metal masters EXTREME—had played in Adelaide before but the hefty wait had not dampened the enthusiasm of their cult following.
Entering the venue, the crowd was quickly greeted by the beaming smile of Mr. Big’s frontman Eric Martin. The band launched straight into ‘Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy (The Electric Drill Song),’ which was capped off by lead guitar magician Paul Gilbert shredding with, yes, an electric drill.
Between Paul Gilbert’s insanely tight guitar work, Eric Martin’s raspy wails and Billy Sheehan’s incredible bass proficiency (highlighted by a jaw-dropping bass solo), Mr. Big’s set was something of a technical masterclass. The barrage of excellent musicianship on display made the eventual unveiling of their timeless ballad ‘To Be with You’ one of the more forgettable moments of the set.
As Mr. Big wrapped up, it was hard to see how their co-headlining brother band was going to top what we just saw. But as the lights went out once again and EXTREME took to the stage, it almost felt as though you were a kid staying up way past your bed time and ‘accidentally’ watching some late night adult TV.
The contrasts between the two bands were obvious; in place of Martin’s earnest belting, EXTREME’s frontman Gary Cherone slunk across the stage with malevolent intent snarling into his Freddie Mercury-styled mic-stand. Yet for all the bombast the members of EXTREME showed as they blasted through fan favourites like ‘Get the Funk Out’ and ‘Rest in Peace,’ the name on everyone’s lips was Nuno Bettencourt.
The legendary guitarist was utterly mesmerising whenever he took centre stage, and his on stage banter proved to be a welcome dose of humanity amongst all the bravado of the night. One early set highlight was his acoustic guitar solo which left the crowd staring up at him in awe and reverence.
Eventually though, it was time to play ‘More Than Words.’ A lot can be said about the doe-eyed romanticism of this ’90s ballad but as Gary turned the mic to the crowd and had them break out into a gorgeous room-wide harmony, it was hard not to be swept up in the magic.
Coming into the night, it seemed as if it was going to be the battle of the ’90s ballads but as one particularly eager crowd member confessed at the start of the night: “EXTREME are our favourite band and no one knows who they are, well they know that one song—I wish they never made that bloody song.”
While their places in the broader cultural context seem to be relegated to one-hit-wonder status—both Mr. Big and EXTREME might as well have been the biggest bands of the ’90s as they captivated their rabid cult fanbase with a rock ‘n’ roll exhibition over two decades in the making.
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Photos: Peter Pap