At the Capital With Mr. Big

By on February 22, 2015


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The year was 1988, and hard rock was at its peak. Bands like Aerosmith, Motley Crue, and the Scorpions were being played everywhere. From radio stations to MTV to Friday Night Videos, the rock sound and the scene were everywhere. Van Halen, with a new veteran front person in Sammy Hagar, was picking up where it left off after the departure of David Lee Roth, and Roth was selling out arenas with his solo act, which featured two virtuosos, guitarist, Steve Vai , and bassist, Billy Sheehan. With the undeniable success of the multi-platinum Eat Em’ and Smile album and their follow-up release, Skyskraper, it looked like David Lee Roth, Steve Vai, Billy Sheehan and drummer, Greg Bissonette, would be playing together and producing more multi-platinum albums for many years to come. But this was not meant to be, because prior to the Skyskraper tour commencing, Billy Sheehan announced that he would be leaving the band.

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Billy Sheehan (Photo: Travis Failey RSEN)

After Sheehan’s departure from David Lee Roth, word in the music community was that he would be forming another supergroup, Mr. Big, with former Racer X guitarist Paul Gilbert, drummer Pat Torpey, who played with Belinda Carlisle and had a stint with the Knack, amongst others, and a very accomplished vocalist in Eric Martin.

In 1989, Mr. Big released their self-titled debut album, which received limited success in the US, but produced the hit single, “Addicted To That Rush,” which provided a sound that the masses had not heard before. Guitarist, Paul Gilbert, incorporated a power drill at the beginning of the song that made you immediately stop and take note. Gilbert had used the drill previously in Racer X, and the power drill was later used by Eddie Van Halen on “Poundcake.”

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Paul Gilbert (Photo: Travis Failey RSEN)

After the touring cycle concluded, Mr. Big went back into the studio and produced their sophomore release, Lean Into It. Lean Into It was the band’s greatest commercial success in the US, with hits “To Be With You,” and “Just Take My Heart.” In 1993, Bump Ahead hit the airways. Even though Bump Ahead didn’t achieve the commercial success of Lean Into It, Bump Ahead helped Mr. Big continue its popularity overseas, particularly in Japan.

With the advent of grunge music in the US in the 1990s, hard rock bands were hard-pressed to attain commercial success in the next decade, but Mr. Big’s popularity in Japan never waned. Mr. Big continued to release albums and toured in Japan to packed stadiums.

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Eric Martin (Photo: Travis Failey RSEN)

Mr. Big went through some lineup changes through the years, and fully disbanded in 2002. But after being away for several years, Mr. Big got back together in 2009 and celebrated the 20thyear anniversary of their debut release.

Mr. Big released What If in 2010 and continued to tour to packed houses in Japan. With hard rock being back “in style” in the US, Mr. Big fans flocked to see the original members play their favorite hits from the band.

In December of 2014, Mr. Big released its 8th studio record, The Stories We Could Tell, and started their touring cycle in the UK. One caveat to that would be that drummer, Pat Torpey, would not be touring with the band, as Torpey had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

Former Ace Frehley drummer, Matt Starr, took over the drumming duties for Mr. Big’s The Stories We Could Tell tour. With Starr behind the kit, they traveled from the UK through Brazil, which lead up to Mr. Big’s four-stop US tour, which started tonight at Clearwater’s Capital Theatre.

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(Photo: Travis Failey RSEN)

Ok. Maybe Clearwater, Florida sounds like an odd first spot to start a four-stop US tour, but when you consider the immensely positive response that bassist, Billy Sheehan, and the Winery Dogs received when they played here last year, it made sense. But it truly took me by surprise because I asked Sheehan at the Winery Dogs show if Mr. Big would be back this way anytime soon and he stated that he “didn’t think so.”

Mr. Big took the stage promptly at 7:30 and busted out with a huge fan favorite, “Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy.” It was obvious from the start that the fans in attendance were ready to sing and that Mr. Big was happy to be back in the states. This was mentioned numerous times throughout the set by Eric Martin and also by Billy Sheehan. Speaking of Eric Martin, he showed his range tonight and that he hasn’t lost a step in the way he sings rock music with such soul and precision. Martin did seem to get ticked- off a few times throughout the night due to lighting issues and some sound difficulties, but it didn’t affect his performance in any way.

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Martin & Sheehan (Photo: Travis Failey RSEN)

Mr. Big kept the pace upbeat through the early stages of the set with “Gotta Love the Ride,” and “American Beauty.” Hearing “American Beauty” live is sure to get your feet-tapping and heart racing. With Billy Sheehan pulling out his tool bag of flying bass moves and finger-tapping techniques, and Paul Gilbert teeth-picking his guitar throughout the night’s show, the fans had only begun being treated to an unforgettable evening of sights and sounds.

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Paul Gilbert (Photo: Travis Failey RSEN)

Mr. Big interlaced songs from the newer releases, but always knew what the US audiences wanted to hear, specifically songs from its first two albums. After performing “UnderTow,” and “Alive and Kicking,” the crowd was treated to a surprise: Mr. Big’s original drummer, Pat Torpey, joined the band on stage for most of the evening. Torpey played various roles: as a dual drummer, with Torpey playing a mini kit while Starr hit the big skins; as a backup vocalist on the band’s huge US hit, “Just Take My Heart,” and their rendition of the Cat Steven’s classic, “Wild World;” and he also get behind the big kit for a song or two later in the set.

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Pat Torpey (Photo: Travis Failey RSEN)

It was a given that some time during the set Billy Sheehan would take center stage and perform one of his signature bass solos. He didn’t disappoint as Sheehan is a magician on the bass. The fans in the stands didn’t take their eyes off of Sheehan, not only during his solo, but throughout the night. Sheehan’s solo was six and a half minutes long, which may seem excessive, but it was brilliant. It transitioned to an all out guitar dual between Sheehan and Paul Gilbert.

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Billy Sheehan (Photo: Travis Failey RSEN)

It‘s amazing how underrated Paul Gilbert is as a guitar player. You think of the active greats in Slash and Zack Wylde, but it’s not often that you hear Gilbert’s name mentioned. All you have to do is see him perform live and you will put Gilbert’s name in the “Guitar Greats” category. After all, Eddie Van Halen borrowed one of his moves…Nuff said.

Paul Gilbert (Photo: Travis Failey RSEN)


After Sheehan and Gilbert jousted, the band moved seamlessly into “Addicted To That Rush.” They closed out the main set with “Rush,” during which, vocalist, Eric Martin addressed the crowd and asked them if they were “addicted” and the crowd went ballistic. Usually a band would end the night with such a crowd favorite but that was only the twenty-first song of a twenty-six song set. That’s right, twenty-six songs, which equated to two and a half hours of music that flew by.

Mr. Big’s encore was another full stage with Torpey coming out from the mini-kit to play the tambourine and sing on the ballad, “To Be With You.” They would also play another foot-tapper/ body-mover in “Colorado BullDog,” with Sheehan making his bass bark like a dog.

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Pat, Eric & Matt (Photo: Travis Failey RSEN)

You would think that that would be the end of the night, but, no. More surprises would be in store for their fans, as all the members of the band changed instruments. Martin played on bass, Sheehan and Starr were on guitar, Gilbert was on the drums, and Pat Torpey took center stage and performed their cover of “Living After Midnight.” Torpey crushed the vocal track of the Priest classic. It was a special moment, not only for the crowd, but also for the band. Martin again mentioned how special it was for Pat to be playing with them, because they didn’t think it was going to happen due to Pat’s illness.

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“Living After Midnight” (Photo: Travis Failey RSEN)

They closed the night out with the Free cover, “Mr. Big.” Eric Martin told the story of how when the band got together, they had the clothes and the songs, but they didn’t have a name. They all loved Paul Rodgers and his band, Free, and one day when they were at practice, Martin picked up the Free album, realized that he loved the song, and the name, “Mr. Big,” and that’s how Mr. Big got its name.

Mr. Big said their goodbyes, took a bow, and told the crowd how much they appreciated them, and, once again, how happy they were to be back home. It was genuine to say the least.

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Eric Martin (Photo: Travis Failey RSEN)

It was an amazing night of music and showmanship that I’m pretty sure that most in attendance will not forget. If you are lucky enough to be in one of the other three stops on Mr. Big’s US tour, make sure you get out to see them. You won’t be disappointed.

On a side note, I spoke with Billy Sheehan once again after tonight’s performance, and I asked him a very specific question: “Billy, Dave calls you up and says, “I’m getting the band back together. Me, You, Steve and Greg. What do you think? You In?” Billy replied, and I quote, “If it’s the original band, I’m In.”

Hey Dave. Wanna borrow my phone?

For more information on Mr. Big:

More Photos by Travis Failey




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