Home Gigs Gig Review : Mr. Big with Jared James Nichols: Rock City, Nottingham.

Gig Review : Mr. Big with Jared James Nichols: Rock City, Nottingham.

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Review by Pete Finn for MPM

This is a milestone, it’s a special one, US Rockers Mr. Big are celebrating nearly 40-years of making records and have decided to go on ‘The Big Finish Tour’ which started in Japan last July before visiting South Korea, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, The Philippines, and Indonesia.

Following the Asian trek, Mr. Big have also played dates in South America, and the US before heading into Europe, and the UK. This swansong tour will see Mr. Big perform their breakthrough 1991 album ‘Lean Into It’ in its entirety alongside other tracks from their distinguished career. Support on the UK and European dates is Jared James Nichols.

MPM Tog Manny Manson picks me up in our tour bus, tonight is the first night of the UK leg of the tour, so there’s much excitement as we head towards Nottingham, and Rock City. Once inside it’s nice to catch up with some friends from home, they are regular supporters of live music, amongst them Ya Ya and White Skies legendary guitarist Ray Callcut.

Jared James Nichols is an American blues-rock guitarist and singer from East Troy, Wisconsin, best known for his high-energy “pick-less” electric guitar playing technique. His style and influences are rooted in the early 1970s hard-rock vein of Cream and Mountain.

He resides in Nashville, Tennessee. He has recorded three full length studio albums, from his debut ‘Old Glory & The Wild Revival’ in 2015 to his self-titled most recent in 2023. Nichols was named as a global ambassador for Gibson Guitars in June 2021. Nichols is one of four guitarists to now be given this title, the other three being Lzzy Hale, Slash, and Dave Mustaine, that’s an impressive gang. His band tonight also consists of Ryan Rice (drums) and Brian Weaver (bass).

The lights go out as Foreigner’s ‘Urgent’ plays over the PA, and out jog the band, with Nichol’s tall 6ft 5” frame at the front of the stage. A smile and Nichols asks the crowd “Are you ready to rock n’ roll?” and we’re into ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’ from ‘Jared James Nichols’. Rice’s steady beat is matched by Nichols’ clipped lyrics, the guitar is squealing in pleasure as Nichols plays his first solo, he’s standing at the stage edge lost in the moment. Nichols’ power riffs are reminiscent of Tony Iommi. It’s a powerful start and he’s captured Rock City already.

The hall fills with bass wash, Nichols wants to hear Rock City scream, they follow with the slower and dirty ‘Down the Drain’ ‘from the same album. The lyrics are slower and direct but passionate. He’s twisting and turning, throwing his guitar around as he plays. Weaver’s bass is pounding the senses, Nichols’ guitar cuts through the sound, sending shivers down the spine.

‘Hard Wired’ continues the tracks from the latest album, a quick lick and Rice’s careful beat bring the track in. Nichols’ is speaking the words. It has a southern blues vibe; the Rock City crowd are nodding their heads appreciatively. Nichols climbs down into the pit and up onto the barriers as he plays a slow solo, bending the strings before increasing the tempo and the band start rocking out with him.

Nichols wants to know if we’re having a good time, the resounding cheers confirm we are. ‘Threw Me to the Wolves’ was a single released in 2020. The ballad like vocals are accompanied by a steady rhythmic beat provided by Rice and Weaver. Nichols introduces the band to the crowd, each adding a little solo. The mid-section explodes with power, Nichols has his foot up on the monitor as he plays the solo, he sneaks in a snippet of the Rolling Stones ‘Miss You’. The crowd enjoyed that.

‘Skin ‘n Bone’ has a real Hendrix feel to it. Slow and deliberate lyrics delivered with a growl. Nichols has his guitar breaks squealing like the great man too. Rock City is mesmerised and soaking it up. The band ease straight into ‘Bad Roots’ a single released in 2021. This is quicker and rocking, chugging heavy riffs propelled by Rice’s rapid beats. Rock City are up on their toes. The track plays to a big finish.

Rice’s metronome beats start ‘Good Time Girl’. Nichols encourages the crowd to clap along with the beat. The anthemic chorus has Rock City joining in and punching the air as they sing. The solo sees Nichols at the stage edge leaning over the crowd as he jams away.

Nichols thanks the crowd for listening to them, before asking “Do you want some more?” The big cheer signals the affirmative. ‘Honey Forgive Me’ is taken from ‘Black Magic’ released in 2018. The intro riff has bite, it’s bluesy and dirty. He plays his solo with the crowd; he’s smiling and waving. The rhythm section’s beats are good and sleazy. Nichols’ fret work slices through the rumble.

The final song of a totally absorbing set is ‘Mississippi Queen’, a cover of the 1970 Mountain classic. Nichols gets the crowd to clap the track in. Ryan Rice is hitting the cowbell, it begins as Nichols bends the strings, Rice and Weaver bring some boom to the party, Rice and Weaver join in with backing vocals, adding a softer sound in contrast to Nichols’ scream, it’s a clever sound. The show closes with Nichols leaning over the pit unleashing a final solo, the band pause, the crowd cheer the band start again, this cycle continues until a final Rice drum salvo.

Setlist: Easy Come, Easy Go; Down the Drain; Hard Wired; Threw Me to the Wolves; Skin ‘n Bone; Bad Roots; Good Time Girl; Honey Forgive Me; Mississippi Queen.

Mr. Big was formed in Los Angeles, California in 1988, originally by guitarist Paul Gilbert and bassist Billy Sheehan, who were both renowned musicians in the rock and metal scene. They were joined by vocalist Eric Martin and drummer Pat Torpey to complete the lineup. The band’s self-titled debut album was a commercial success and solidified their place in the rock music scene.

Throughout their career, Mr. Big has released a string of successful albums, including ‘Lean into It’ (1991), ‘Bump Ahead’ (1993), and ‘Hey Man’ (1996) included in their nine studio albums. Their biggest hit single ‘To Be With You’ released in 1991, hit the No.1 Chart Position in 12-different countries. Their unique blend of hard rock, blues, and pop sensibilities has garnered them a dedicated fan base worldwide. Despite facing some lineup changes over the years, including sadly the death of Pat Torpey, the band has continued to release music and tour around the world, solidifying their reputation as one of the most iconic rock bands of the 1990s. The current lineup consists of the three surviving original members, and former Spock’s Beard drummer Nick D’Virgilio.

Tonight’s show is part of their ‘The Big Finish Tour’ which include the playing of the iconic ‘Lean into It’ album in its entirety. The Ramones ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ plays over the PA, the lights go out, the cheers go up as Mr. Big take to the stage as the lighting flashes red and yellow, Paul Gilbert is looking very smart in a blazer and tie.

They open with a track from their debut album ‘Mr. Big’, it’s ‘Addicted to That Rush’, Sheehan plays the intro, Gilbert joins in and we’re off. Eric Martin comes to the front of the stage and starts singing to a sea of nodding heads. Rock City is hooked. With D’Virgilio’s steady beat Martin encourages the Rock City crowd to sing along with him, which they gladly do. Sheehan’s bass is shoving the air around the hall.

Eric Martin dedicates the next track to Pat Torpey, before turning behind him and saying, “Hit it, Nick.” Nick D’Virgilio brings in ‘Take Cover’ from 1996’s ‘Hey Man’, it’s a bit slower, Gilbert’s effective riff is sitting nicely on top of Sheehan’s thumping bass. I look around and everyone is singing the words too. Martin is leaning over the pit as he sings to the crowd.

‘Price You Gotta Pay’ is from ‘Bump Ahead’ released in 1993. Martin is twirling his mic stand, this is bluesy, Sheehan’s bass is burbling through a fog of distortion. Gilbert’s hands glide over the strings and frets, Martin stands behind Sheehan and works the bass chords as Sheehan plays the harmonica. Gilbert leans back into his solo, as D’Virgilio crashes in a big finish.

Billy Sheehan cups his ears, Rock City understands and start clapping. The racing riffs start for ‘Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy (The Electric Drill Song)’ the opening track on ‘Lean into It’, the tempo is quick, Rock City are on their toes bouncing, the Sheehan and Gilbert start playing their instruments with battery drills, it’s an amazing sight and sound. The crowd are loving it, and take over the singing, the track closes with the crowd waving to the band.

Paul Gilbert starts with a riff, adding in a snippet of ‘Happy Birthday.’ The we ease into ‘Alive and Kickin’’, it’s slower Nick D’Virgilio drives out a purposeful beat. Martin is spinning his mic stand’s base like a steering wheel as he introduces Gilbert’s solo, Gilbert moves to the centre of the stage, he’s leaning back with his eyes closed as he plays, he’s soaking up the experience as are the crowd. D’Virgilio is off his stool coaxing claps from the crowd, Martin is down in the pit as he sings.

The stage is awash with green lighting. Gilbert’s flighty intro starts ‘Green-Tinted Sixties Mind’, Martin is narrating the words as Sheehan’s bass delivers punchy notes. Gilbert and Sheehan play a big part with harmonised backing vocals. A group of ladies in the crowd around me are dancing. Gilbert’s careful solo brings the track to a close.

It’s a guitar change for Gilbert as the Jeff Paris written track ‘CDFF-Lucky This Time’, is next. Sheehan has swapped too; he’s now wielding a peppermint green twin neck. The pace is slower as Martin narrates the words. The even beat has the crowd nodding in time.

Gilbert’s lick starts ‘Voodoo Kiss’, the crowd join in clapping. It’s a bit more of a funky, blues boogie sound. Martin has swagger as he shimmies and slides across the stage, Sheehan’s bass is bouncing the track along. The mid-section jam allows the musicians to flex their fingers and muscles.

D’Virgilio’s cymbals bring in ‘Never Say Never’, this is a bit slower. Martin delivers the lyrics in short bursts, Gilbert slides in scratchy lead breaks. Rock City joins in with the “Woah’s”. The guitarists add vocal harmonies, as Sheehan’s hands work the bottom bass’ strings before D’Virgilio closes the track.

Gibert’s lead intro starts the ballad ‘Just Take My Heart’. The crowd listening intently, swaying slightly as they do. Sheehan’s hands are now focused on the top bass. The tempo builds as the crowd take on the singing as Gilbert plays a delicate solo.

Next, we have one of Eric Martin’s favourite tracks, and one of the first ones written with Paul Gilbert, it’s ‘My Kinda Woman’. Gilbert’s driving rock riff has the crowd nodding. This is heavier, Martin is leaning into his mic as he calls out the lyrics. Gilbert arches his back as he fires through his solo. Rock City is rocking. The band appeared to enjoy that one a lot.

Eric Martin tells us, “It’s time to get a little dirty.” It’s ‘A Little Too Loose’, the band narrate the intro together. The slow blues sound starts, the chugging pace has the heads nodding steadily. Billy Sheehan is singing most of the vocals. Gilbert speeds things up with his solo as Sheehan’s bass rumbles behind. The crowd start to clap in time with the beats as Gibert plays us out.

Martin thanks the crowd, before Sheehan and Gilbert sing the start to ‘Road to Ruin’. This is rockier and heavy. Punchy riffs and fat bass strings keep the rock vibe going, as does Gilbert with his solo. The crowd start singing the “Woah’s” with the band. Eric Martin introduces the band to the crowd, each member getting a big cheer. Martin tells the crowd that it’s Billy Sheehan’s birthday and asks Rock City to sing ‘Happy Birthday’, as we do a cake with candles is brought out, Sheehan successfully blows out all the candles. A huge cheer and claps meet the end, we liked that.

Sheehan is now re-united with his single necked bass; Gilbert has an acoustic slung over his shoulder. We conclude ‘Lean into It with their monster hit ‘To Be With You’, as it starts Rock City is on backing vocals, arms are waving. Martin is now encouraging the crowd to duet with him, they’re loving it. A big cheer and applause greet it’s close.

Eric Martin is now wielding his own acoustic guitar. ‘Wild World’ is a Cat Stevens Cover that Mr. Big recorded on their 1993 album ‘Bump Ahead’. The gentle strumming and harmonies begin. It’s almost an ‘un-plugged’ sound. The crowd join in with what is a respectful rendition of the original.

The band apart from Paul Gilbert leave the stage, he is illuminated by several spotlights as he plays a scorching guitar solo, that cleverly linked snippets of their own ‘Nothing But Love’, ‘The World’s Gonna Know’ and included the theme from ‘Rocky’. The crowd show their appreciation and the band return to the stage for ‘Colorado Bulldog’ which also from ‘Bump Ahead’, this is quick, hard, and heavy emphasised by Nick D’Virgilio rapid drumbeat. Gilbert and Sheehan jam, with both giving breaks that have the crowd smiling and clapping.

Now, it’s Billy Sheehan’s turn to be left alone on the stage with the spotlights, as he pounds out a sharp and varied bass solo. Again, the crowd show their appreciation, the band return and are straight into ‘Shy Boy’ which is a cover of the 1982 Talas track. Talas was Sheehan’s first band, and he is on lead vocals. A good quick rock n’ roller of a track, heavy beats, rapid lyrics, and plenty of squealing guitars. The band play to a big finish, culminating in a Nick D’Virgilio drum roll.

It’s back to the self-titled debut for a cover of Humble Pie’s 1972 hit, ‘30 Days in the Hole’. Eric Martin counts the track in, the band cry out “30 Days in the Hole” several times before getting the Rock City crowd to copy them. It’s a good honest reproduction of the original, Eric Martin wants to see hands in the air, Rock City obliges.

Now something completely different, the band swap instruments, Eric Martin is on bass, Nick D’Virgilio is now on guitar, Paul Gilbert is behind the drum kit and Billy Sheehan is on lead vocals, he wants the crowd to practice some “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’s”. He introduces the band and their new instruments, and they start ‘Good Lovin’’ a 1958 track by The Olympics. An upbeat Rock n’ Roll track that has Rock City jumping, swaying, and joining in with the “Yeah’s” when pointed at by Sheehan. Nick D’Virgilio plays a fine solo as Gilbert pounds the kit before leading to a drum crescendo finish. Great entertainment.

The final song of a great set is another cover, this one is by The Who and is their 1971 iconic hit, ‘Baba O’Riley’. D’Virgilio is stood behind his kit wanting Rock City to clap. Gilbert starts the riff, joined by Sheehan, then D’Virgilio’s cymbals. Gilbert gives his guitar strings the Pete Townshend windmill. Martin is prowling the stage as he calls out the words. Sheehan’s bass is rumbling in the background. Eric Martin climbs down into the pit, to fist bump the crowd. The band play the jam section with big smiles on their faces and play out to a big finish. Rock City is cheering and applauding, the band hand out setlists, picks and sticks before lining up and taking a bow.

Setlist: Addicted to That Rush; Take Cover; Price You Gotta Pay; Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy (The Electric Drill Song); Alive and Kickin’; Green-Tinted Sixties Mind; CDFF-Lucky This Time; Voodoo Kiss; Never Say Never; Just Take My Heart; My Kinda Woman; A Little Too Loose; Road to Ruin; To Be With You; Wild World; Colorado Bulldog; Shy Boy; 30 Days in the Hole; Good Lovin’; Baba O’Riley.

Tonight, has seen two bands with contrasting styles, put on great shows with their extremely talented musicians that gave everything. However, I think that Eric Martin wasn’t quite “100% Match Fit”, his voice lost it’s strength and range occasionally, but his enthusiasm and professionalism were world class. The band and the Rock City crowd were more than willing and happy to join in and share the vocal duties when needed. The result was a wonderful team effort that produced a winning performance.

Photography by Manny Manson for MPM

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