Mr. Big and Jared James Nichols at KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton on 22/3/24

Photo by Ant Firmin

Mr. Big’s farewell tour, not as long as many others, see’s the band bid goodbye to their fans across the globe.  This is the first of two visits to the UK this year with shows in Nottingham, Manchester, Wolverhampton and London.

Everything about this show is BIG and opening the evenings entertainment is the big man of the guitar, a giant of 6ft 5in (195cm for us Europeans) with even bigger, more gigantic riffs – Jared James Nichols.  The big man has already been making a big noise in guitar centric circles having become one of four global ambassadors for the Gibson brand, and having released three studio albums I cannot understand why he isn’t so much bigger.

Having witnessed him play a number of times over the last 10 years I knew this crowd was in for a real treat so it is unsurprising the venue is rammed from the start – they like their rock hard and heavy in this part of the country – and Jared starts the delivery of a truly formidable set.  He is wearing a cut off t-shirt and a cut off denim jacket, his muscles and tattoos visible for all to see and both he and his music are imposing.

Jared is backed by a rhythm section of Brian Weaver on bass and Ryan Rice on drums, and they stick like glue without overpowering him; they are there and you can hear them but allowing the big man to take the sonic spotlight.  His guitar playing technique, whilst not unique, is unusual in this sort of music by using his fingers instead of the use of a plectrum and the effect is rather devastating.

Much of tonights set is culled from his excellent 2023 released, self titled album.  The subtleties of the album’s sounds are out of the door and we are left with a simpler sound but more bruising approach that is turned up to 11, and it is working well with tonight’s crowd who are lapping it up.  Jared is also offering hot sweaty hugs at the merch stand after his set to anyone who buys him a beer or a shot, and there are quite a few who take him up on the offer.

A recent haircut hasn’t diminished his resolve either, and it takes a brave or foolish man to cover a Black Sabbath song to end a set in Sabs territory – and tonight he delivers War Pigs with a bravado and spirit that rubs off on the crowd, with the Wolverhampton choir joining in and drowning out Jared’s vocals, they are clapping along and making this a special performance.

Jared James Nichols – Guitar
Brian Weaver – bass
Ryan Rice – drums

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Photo by Ant Firmin

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The main focus of tonight’s show is, of course, Mr Big.  At the show in Manchester a couple of nights earlier singer Eric Martin was really struggling; ill health had seriously taken it’s toll on his voice and he was barely able to croak, let alone sing.  On social media it was announced that Michele Luppi, most widely known for singing and playing keyboards in Whitesnake would be providing additional vocals. What is even more interesting about this is that in the 90’s Michele used to sing with a band called Mr. Pig who used to perform songs from Lean Into It, the album that is the centrepiece of tonights show.

Lean Into It was a go to rock album back in ’91, propelled by the massive worldwide hit To Be With You but sadly the band were not able to maintain the momentum and they remained ‘big in Japan’, and much of Asia, but small everywhere else (in ’94 I saw them in a club in Albuquerque and the size of the audience would just about have paid for food and fuel for the bus and little else).  Even so, managing to release nine albums is no small feat over 30 years, all are solid too but Lean Into It remains peak Mr. Big and they are celebrating it by playing it all in full.

Blitzkrieg Bop by The Ramones plays as a prelude to the band coming on stage – Billy Sheehan, turquoise bass in hand, black leather jacket and hair tied back, Paul Gilbert, yellow guitar and looking dapper in a suit and tie, Eric Martin is the more casual one with a loose red shirt.

Nick D’Virgilio is occupying the drum solo for this tour following the sad passing of Pat Torpey in 2018 and proves to be an excellent choice as he provides outstanding backing vocals to complement Martin. 

The band waste no time and launch into Addicted To That Rush from the debut album, the pace is set, Gilbert and Sheehan’s fingers are in overdrive (and they remain so for the rest of the show). What is even more impressive is Billy Sheehan is 71 years of age and his dexterity is amazing. Then Eric Martin’s voice kicks in… and it is actually sounding okay, not perfect, but certainly better than Wednesday in Manchester.

Take Cover, from Hey Man, with it’s shuffly groove is addictive and I find myself singing along as are many here.  Price You Gotta Pay is another dirty slab of rock, Sheehan breaks to play harmonica in the middle of the song whilst Martin stands behind him and plays the bass – fun to watch too – and the band are clearly having a good time.

At this point I am thinking about Mr Luppi.  Standing at the back between the drums and the guitar stack he is clearly singing along but it is understated in the mix; I guess he is there just in case and he is clearly having a good time – a few days ago I bet he wasn’t expecting ‘to be with you’ tonight, well, with us all.

The band move into Lean Into It mode; out come the electric drills for Sheehan and Martin as they launch into the drill song… Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy and it is astonishingly good, once more I am galvanised, the audience are joining in the chorus too.

Alive And Kicking and Green-tinted Sixties Mind flow the same path, but things are slowed down a little for CDFF-Lucky and Sheehan swaps to his twin-neck bass – it is an impressive sight – and followed by the somewhat funkier bass driven Voodoo Kiss.  The band plough through the rest of the album in a similar manner, much of the crowd dancing and singing along to this much loved classic.

The big highlight for everyone though is when Gilbert dons his acoustic guitar and we are treated to the worldwide mega-hit To Be With You, arms waving, even more singing along further encouraged by Martin at the edge of the stage.  The crowds response is overwhelming.

A cover of of the Cat Stevens song Wild World comes next with Martin also playing acoustic guitar – again the crowd are joining in.  Gilbert is then alone on the stage and we get the inevitable solo guitar section – I head to the toilet and he is still doing his solo section when I return.

The full band return for Colorado Bulldog from Bump Ahead – it is brutally hard and heavy and thoroughly enjoyable.  Yep, time for a bass solo.  As much as he is an incredible bass player these solos do nothing for me so I head to the bar.  Interestingly the solo moves into the Talas song Shy Boy (also covered by David Lee Roth) and it is played at break neck speed.  The debut album gets revisited for Humble Pie’s 30 Days In The Hole which is competent but not essential – so many other songs they could have played.

One of the fun aspects of every Mr. Big show is when they all swap instruments; Nick moves to guitar, Paul goes to the drums, Eric goes to the bass and Billy becomes the lead singer.  This time they are covering The Olympics Good Lovin’ and it works really well – Mr Gilbert’s drumming is very impressive and overall it is hugely entertaining.

There is no encore so the final song of the evening is yet another cover – The Who’s Baba O’Riley – and most here are enjoying it, but, as this is the farewell tour why play so many covers when there are classics spread across their nine studio albums?  I guess we will never know, but even so this has been a fine way for the band to bow out with a two-hour performance and I am so glad I got to see them again.

Eric Martin – vocals
Paul Gilbert – guitar
Billy Sheehan – bass
Nick D’Virgilio – drums
Michele Luppi – special guest vocalist

1. Addicted To That Rush
2. Take Cover
3. Price You Gotta Pay
4. Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy (The Electric Drill Song)
5. Alive And Kickin’
6. Green-Tinted Sixties Mind
7. CDFF-Lucky This Time
8. Voodoo Kiss
9. Never Say Never
10. Just Take My Heart
11. My Kinda Woman
12. A Little Too Loose
13. Road To Ruin
14. To Be With You
15. Wild World
16. Paul Gilbert Guitar Solo
17. Colorado Bulldog
18. Billy Sheehan Bass Solo
19. Shy Boy
20. 30 Days In The Whole
21. Good Lovin’
22. Baba O’Riley

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Photo by Ant Firmin

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