Eric Martin, the voice of Mr. Big. The last time I saw this guy live would’ve been a Mr. Big show in 1991 I reckon, at Newport Centre with The Throbs supporting. Now that was a mismatch of two bands for a tour if ever there was one. One of the biggest commercial rock bands of the time with a bunch of sleazy New York miscreants with a love of the New York Dolls and Alice Cooper. Damn, I loved The Throbs, but that’s another story.
Mr. Big was a massive band then, you can’t deny the power of ‘To Be With You’ as a hit single. And while times have changed, this is an intimate gig for a singer/songwriter who can still pull the crowds with his band and as a solo artist.
I wasn’t even going to go to this gig, but somehow, in some crazy turn of events, my best buddy Matt managed to blag the support slot tonight at The Brudenell in Leeds.
Now, Matt was the frontman of a Britpop-era band from Grimsby called Twist, who “coulda been contenders, Charlie!” They had the looks, they lived the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, but more importantly they had the songs, good songs that stand the test of time to this day. Imagine jangly Americana influenced Britpop, coming on like Love or The Byrds, fuelled by too much weed, good speed and spot-on vocal harmonies. The only band I can remember who was doing that at the time was The Montrose Avenue. Sadly for them, it wasn’t to be and as with so many great bands, they split before their time.
Giving up music for 20 years, Matt is back with his former band member and songwriting partner Paul Gorry, making music in the band The Badrocks, whose sound is more influenced by the dark countrified tales of Alabama 3 and Nick Cave. Matt is now in the process of testing these songs out in a live environment.
Now Matt will tell you himself he is no guitar player, but when you have great songs, a proper good voice and the conviction to perform to your best, it’s amazing what you can pull off.
Mixing up his recent countrified influenced songs such as the drug-fuelled opener ‘All I Want’ and recent single ‘Watching Me’ with older choice Twist cuts such as ‘Charlie’s Girl’ and ‘The Pin-Down Song’ it seems to go down a treat. The crowd knows none of the material of course, but interestingly they are not talking to each other, they are actually listening, and each song gets a great response with polite applause.
Ok, I’m slightly biased of course as I have watched him write and re-work these songs over the past 12 months, but after seeing the crowd response tonight; I would say I’m not the only one who thinks he has something good going on.
Eric Martin is a man who definitely has something good going on. Mr Big still pull the crowds on a regular basis, he himself is big in Japan and he still looks way younger than his years. Whatever it is he’s taking, I want some of that!
This intimate acoustic tour sees him joining up with guitarist David Cotterill from the metal band Demon. A strange collaboration you may think, but actually, the pair complements each other perfectly. The duo both play guitar and David provides backing vocals in a set that covers Martin’s solo material and of course the hits of Mr Big.
You could call Eric Martin an elder statesman of rock ‘n’ roll these days. He regales us with stories and jokes about his travels from back in the day (or even last week) between songs, as he sips on his beer and gets David to tune his guitar.
I am unfamiliar with the solo material, to be honest, but the likes of ‘Fragile’ and newbie ‘Back In Blue’ sound mighty good to these ears. We are here for the Mr Big hits though and he does not disappoint. ‘Green Tinted Sixties Mind’ goes down as well as you would expect, even if he does forget a verse, and ‘Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy’ (minus any drills) is a personal highlight.
As an introduction to ‘Shine’ (from the Richie Kotzen era of Mr Big), Eric tells us about playing a gig in Richie’s hometown and how he rang him up, as there is actually a statue erected in his honour there!
Each night on this tour, the duo are joined for several songs by guitar player Simon Kaviani and some female vocals courtesy of Mel Tem, who even gets to sing a verse on ‘that’ song, you know the one, right? There are covers too. I forgot that Mr Big covered ’30 Days in the Hole’ it’s a great choice of cover, as is Cat Stevens ‘Wild World’, a song that is perfectly complemented by Eric’s voice.
To be fair, it’s a great set and Eric Martin is much more entertaining than I thought he would be. Humble, down to earth and quite amusing for a 57-year-old American rock star. Seriously though, he still has the voice and the energy of a man half his age and the songs are a testament to his legacy. The crowd came to hear the hits and I feel they got far more than they expected.