Extreme – Live Review – Baltimore Soundstage (1/25/15)

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The last time I saw Extreme was at the M3 Festival in Columbia MD, last year (see here for a reminder: http://wp.me/p2hj3p-6A), where they just about blew the place apart with a killer set and left the tattered remains for Kix to close the evening, which, in my humble opinion was a task far beyond their abilities. Why anyone would choose to follow Extreme still leaves me scratching my head to this day. I guess ego is a hard thing to swallow? Either way, Extreme were amazing last year and, as soon as I saw this show announced, I was ready for more. An extra enticement was the fact that this was the 25th anniversary of the epically good Pornograffitti record and the plan was to play the entire album end-to-end. So, off we set for Baltimore, despite dire warnings of grim weather and more. The good news was no support band, so the show time of 9PM meant we could have dinner before the show with no need to hang around waiting for some unknown support act to wrap up their set – with the added bonus of an anticipated reasonable finish time for whole evening. Despite the hour plus drive home a decent nights sleep seemed on the cards.

I wasn’t really sure what the turn out on a Sunday night might be, and previous shows at Baltimore Soundstage had what I will call a rather “soft” attendance, but as we turned into the very conveniently located parking lot (which is actually above the venue itself), there was a line that stretched from the entrance around the corner, so, despite the fact tickets were still for sale on the door, it was clear this was going to be a packed audience. After eating, despite the doors opening, the line was still around the corner, so interest in the show was high. As we entered, it was clear that the audience was almost exclusively of the older generation, presumably original fans from the 90’s. Apart from a few kids dragged along by their parents, I don’t think there was anyone in the audience under 30!

Once we made it inside, it was clear this was the biggest audience I’ve ever seen at Soundstage, so we shuffled our way all the way over to the far side and found a fairly decent spot wedged against the bar, maybe the equivalent of 6 or 7 rows from the front, which gave us a decent, if not optimum view. The only disadvantage of this was the fact that Nuno Bettencourt plays on stage left….the opposite side, but at least that would encourage me to tear my eyes off his fretboard and pay attention to the show.

A few minutes after the advertised start time of 9PM, the house lights dimmed and shortly followed by the background music from the PA, and before you could really draw a breath Gary, Nuno, Pat and Kevin were pedal to the metal into “Decadence Dance”. The advantage of not having to deal with a support-band messing up the sound was obvious from the get-go, with an almost perfect mix from the very first note. I say almost, because I did notice that Nuno’s guitar was a little buried in the mix for part of that first track, but that was quickly sorted, and I’m sure the difference between an empty venue and a near sold out one. From that point on the mix was as good as you could get.

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Obviously the track listing for this part of the show was no surprise, but the energy flowing off the stage was great to see and the band was simply on fire. It is easy to be distracted by Nuno Bettencourt’s blazing guitar playing, and rightly so, but from our stage-right vantage point I as able to soak in the equally virtuoso bass playing from Pat Badger and the quite exceptional drumming of Kevin Figueiredo. I’m not sure how Extreme manage this, but the drum sound is always exceptional, both live and on record, and tonight was no different. Equally impressive was the way all the instruments in the band had their own “space” to work within, which is less easy to achieve, but a good lesson for any band to think about. I was able to focus at will on the bass, guitar or drums, without at any time feeling they were stepping on each other, while still presenting a totally cohesive “sound”.

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Another most notable feature were the pin-sharp harmony backing vocals from Pat and Nuno, which is another art form that is getting harder to find these day. Of course, without the lead vocals from Gary Cherone the band wouldn’t be “Extreme” and Gary is in fine voice these days, but furthermore he is in fine frontman form and leads the inevitable crowd sign-a-long when they get to “More Than Words”. You can see my video of the track here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHxTYLBZAoU&feature=youtu.be

Just to be sure you get a dose of the heavier side of Extreme, of which there was plenty on offer throughout the night, here’s a video of “Money (In God we trust)”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-Qrd1cp494&feature=youtu.be As you can see and hear the band is sounding amazing and even from our offset position, which of course is less than optimum relative to the sound desk, the clarity and overall great mix made this a great night for all in attendance.

Nuno Bettencourt delivered a ripping version of “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee” which of course is the intro to “He-Man Woman Hater”, and despite having seen this last year at M3, it never get’s old. He is such a natural player and never seems to struggle in the least. However, for me, it was Nuno’s masterful display on the acoustic guitar later in the set with a blinding version of “Midnight Express” from the Waiting for the Punchline album that had me spellbound. With some guitar players taking the spotlight for a solo is a bit like watching a high dive at the Olympics, with an intense sense of anticipation, a moment where you seem to hold your breath and then a short burst of concentrated energy, but with Nuno, the whole experience flows in a very organic, natural way – there’s much less drama, and way more involvement somehow. Ultimately he makes everything he does on a guitar look ridiculously easy, which, of course, it totally isn’t. I don’t really go for “best” lists, but I will say that Nuno is certainly in my top five when it comes to guitar players.

Once the Pornograffitti set was complete, the night was finished off with an “encore” of six additional tracks (including the afore mentioned “Midnight Express”), which opened with “Play With Me” and closed with personal favorite “Cupid’s Dead”. When all was said and done we had roughly 2 hours of excellent entertainment, from a band that clearly were enjoying themselves. So, to close this was a great evening, and I can only encourage anyone who has the chance to go and see Extreme to make the effort – you won’t be disappointed. If there is one negative I can think of bringing up, it would be the desire for new material. There was talk of a new album, originally slated for 2011, that was then delayed to 2012… I guess that is still a work-in-progress of sorts. Anyway, a great night and my score is close-to-perfect 9.5/10.

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