December announced its arrival with an icy blast, but that did not prevent a completely rammed Civic Hall from giving the warmest of welcomes to a reinvigorated Extreme the band and incredible Special Guests Living Colour. A most impressive attendance considering that a certain Mr Schenker was playing just across town. What a decision to make for the ardent gig-goers.
Civic Hall, Wolverhampton – 1 December 2023
Words: Sophie James
Photography: Jason Samuels
It’s 20:59, and cue the Internationally Recognised Symbol for the imminent arrival of the Main Act.
The Gorilla backdrop became instantly bathed in a malevolent red hue as John Barry’s score from the 1976 version of King Kong emanated menacingly from the PA. Axesmith extraordinaire Nuno Bettencourt entered stage left, ritualistically offering his instrument to the altar of the symmetrically arranged Marshalls before launching into the driving funky riff of It’s a Monster.
It was immediately apparent that here was a band who seemed unaffected by the passage of time both individually and collectively. The power and clarity of the mix channelled this all-pervading sonic assault right into the centre of your brain.
Nuno’s virtuosic talents were to the fore, while Gary Cherone was characteristically effervescent with the consistent power and tone of his voice belying those advancing years.
The rhythm section of Pat Badger and the comparatively more youthful Kevin Figueiredo could be nicknamed The Fast and The Furious with thunderous chords and frantic propulsive beats. One did wonder how Kevin, in particular, could maintain this pace over 120 minutes or so.
The opener was abridged as Nuno cranked out the riff to Decadence Dance, the audience entering on a dime, bellowing in unison, “Trying so hard to keep up with the Jones’.”
What a start this was, and with the flurry of riffs, licks and shredding coming at us, Nuno was demonstrating a total mastery of his craft.
Far too many exquisite pieces to detail individually – just take a look at the setlist at the foot of this review – so I will detail some of the salient points and attempt not to get carried away.
Seven numbers were aired from the excellent new opus Six commencing with #Rebel, which hit with a vicious incisiveness allied to a musical structure most reminiscent of Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song.
One of the trademarks of Extreme is the sheer excellence of the backing vocals from Nuno and Pat. I feel either could easily make the step to front and centre. On the Hendrix meets funk groove of Rest In Peace, they reached a level that was truly glorious. The harmonies fully accentuate the lines “Make love not war, sounds so absurd to me. We can’t afford to say these words lightly.”
A sentiment that is still most relevant in these challenging times.
For those relatively unfamiliar with the band, it is Nuno who is the Master of Ceremonies, introducing the songs and generally interacting with the audience.
“Who was around for the first album? And I don’t mean Pornograffitti!”
This cued a four-song medley from 1989’s eponymous debut comprising Teacher’s Pet / Flesh ‘N’ Blood / Wind Me Up / Kid Ego, which were delivered seamlessly with a zest that has developed over the years.
Play With Me was preceded by a radically reworked ‘fast’ version of We Will Rock You. Periodically, one hears the influences of Sir Brian’s playing in Nuno’s phrasing. Thus, it was apt that a more overt tip of the hat to their inspirations be aired. And, of course, this had the added advantage of maintaining the relentless momentum.
With extended solos and intros in abundance, Nuno’s Blackmore meets Floyd improvisation served as the perfect fanfare to the heavily percussive groove of the epic Am I Ever Going To Change.
“When you hit 50, 55, sitting down feels like an orgasm.”
And who can deny Nuno the opportunity to take a well-deserved breather after the sheer intensity of all that went before? Midnight Express was a jaw-dropping solo acoustic piece that appeared steeped in North African rhythms and executed in a manner I have never heard from an acoustic guitar before. Totally spellbinding.
Nuno was joined by Gary for the delicate new Hurricane prior to the massed ranks of the Wolverhampton choir taking the roof off during the mandatory More Than Words. Such special moments during the latter brought back personal memories of close ones now passed.
“Let’s get back to some rock ‘n’ roll,” and specifically, an intro of Fat Bottomed Girls (Queen again) led into Banshee.
The brisk hoedownlike Take Us Alive was the sole representative from the most overlooked fifth album Saudades De Rock. The way it merged into Elvis’ That’s All-Right Mama was so organic it was a ‘Can you see the join moment’.
The note that Gary attained and sustained at its climax, that far into a set, left no one doubting his enduring abilities.
Not content to demonstrate his soloing expertise merely on the acoustic, Nuno produced an equally mesmeric display on the electric for Flight Of The Wounded Bumble Bee. You can already imagine what it sounds like by its title alone. Speaking as one who never had the pleasure of seeing EVH, this was the closest I felt I came to that level of prodigious talent.
All this provided a manic prelude to the set closer, Get The Funk Out.
One of the things that was particularly evident this evening was how expertly the songs were arranged, melting into each other with such an even flow. Another flawless example was on the encore, where the newer Small Town Beautiful spawned the ever more luxuriant harmonies of Song For Love.
The evening concluded with the monstrous groove of the current album opener, Rise.
Over an expansive, career-spanning two-hour set, Extreme produced a level of performance that never dipped below masterful, bludgeoning, mesmeric, energetic and thoroughly entertaining.
As the band took their bows, there was a genuine appreciation for their ovation, their body language and actions denoting true humility, plus there did appear a reluctance to make their final exit.
One of the tours of the year in anyone’s book, and on the weekend that saw KISS finally retire from the live arena. On this showing, Extreme the band have years more gas in the tank.
Intro: Sacrifice – Hail To The King (John Barry) From King Kong – 1976
- It (‘s A Monster)
- Decadence Dance
- Rest In Peace
- Hip Today
- Teacher’s Pet / Flesh ‘N’ Blood / Wind Me Up / Kid Ego (Debut Album Medley)
- Play With Me (with Queen’s We Will Rock You Intro)
- Other Side Of The Rainbow
- Hole Hearted
- Cupid’s Dead (with Sam Cooke’s Cupid Intro)
- Am I Ever Gonna Change / Guitar Solo
- Thicker Than Blood
- Midnight Express (Nuno Acoustic Solo)
- More Than Words
- Take Us Alive / That’s All Right
- Flight Of The Wounded Bumblebee (Nuno Solo)
- Get The Funk Out
- Small Town Beautiful / Song For Love
Outro: Here’s To The Losers