Mr. Big / Big Fun As The Big Finish Tour Rocks KK’s Steel Mill

It’s Friday Fretworks night at KK’s Steel Mill in Wolverhampton, as we welcome some fantastic musicians into one of the best venues in the Midlands. The Big Finish Tour, the final worldwide tour by Mr. Big in memory of Pat Torpey, is in the house, joined by the ever-impressive Jared James Nichols in fine form.

Mr. Big – The Big Finish

KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton – 22 March 2024

Words And Photography: John Inglis

Mr. Big have come all the way from California to grace KK’s Steel Mill in Wolverhampton. Formed in 1988, they earned great success with albums such as the eponymous Mr Big and Lean Into It among a plethora of work right up to 2017’s Defying Gravity, which was Pat Torpey’s final studio appearance.

Mr. Big - The Big Finish - KK's Steel Mill, Wolverhampton - 22 March 2024
Mr. Big – The Big Finish – KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton – 22 March 2024. Photo: John Inglis/MetalTalk

Torpey passed away on 7 February 2018. “We got Nick D’Virgilio,” Paul Gilbert told MetalTalk about the new drummer for the tour. “I think he’s the perfect choice. I was able to jam with him at Sweetwater about a year ago, and it just reminded me of the groove that Pat Torpey gave to the band. Plus, he’s a lead singer, which was something that Pat Torpey brought to the band as well. So, to me, everything is coming together in the right way for it.”

This is The Big Finish Tour, with Mr Big fans travelling from all over the world to ram KK’s Steel Mill to the rafters. As I waited in the photo pit, I spoke to a few fans, some from Denmark and some from Japan complete with Eric Martin hand puppets. It was lovely to meet such devoted fans.

As we entered our Night of Nostalgia, the song playing over the PA was Blitzkrieg Bop by the Ramones, and yes, everyone was singing to it. As the song fades, the lights dim, and away we go.

Mr. Big - The Big Finish - KK's Steel Mill, Wolverhampton - 22 March 2024
Mr. Big – The Big Finish – KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton – 22 March 2024. Photo: John Inglis/MetalTalk

Drummer Nick D’Virgilio sneaks up to take his throne with cheers from this huge crowd. Billy Sheehan walks into the light, fret tapping away like his life depends on how many notes he can get through before the first chords are belted out.

Paul Gilbert slides in with a very dapper dress code, suit, shirt, tie, with some cool leather boot shoes. Finally, Eric Martin tiptoes on to massive cheers from the Mill as they blast into Addicted To That Rush.

Just to the side of the drums, we see Michele Luppi, keyboardist, producer and vocal coach, who is helping Eric out as he has to deal with an unspecified voice issue.

Eric was obviously struggling, as he freely admitted by getting “the Whitesnake guy, Michele Luppi”, in to assist with vocal duties. You can’t fault him for being upfront with the audience. Let’s be honest, they’re not easy songs to crack out night after night, so he is more than forgiven.

Mr. Big - The Big Finish - KK's Steel Mill, Wolverhampton - 22 March 2024
Mr. Big – The Big Finish – KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton – 22 March 2024. Photo: John Inglis/MetalTalk

After that tremendous warm-up, we got Take Cover, which Eric dedicates to their dear departed friend Pat Torpey. Nick provided a Bonhamesque intro accompanied by some amazing staccato riffing from Paul, which kept the swing going. A personal favourite of mine.

Price You Gotta Pay is a nice grooving tune. Billy loves this as he can twiddle till his heart’s content and there are some gorgeous harmony backing vocals from all the band. Eric is magically summoning the harmonica with his hands for Billy to pick up off the mic stand. He then jumps behind Billy and takes over bass duties. Eric and Paul then trade off a few vocals and licks against each other. Very entertaining, real fun to watch, and the crowd loved it.

The manic intro from Sheehan and Gilbert spark Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy from the Lean Into It album into life. Nick’s cracking snare gets the Mill clapping, with Eric pausing in part on the chorus for the crowd to sing the title, allowing his own voice a little rest.

Alive And Kickin is a bluesy, bass-driving track with some nice harmonies from the boys again. Eric takes a leaf from Lord Coverdale’s book of mic-spinning techniques.

Mr. Big - The Big Finish - KK's Steel Mill, Wolverhampton - 22 March 2024
Mr. Big – The Big Finish – KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton – 22 March 2024. Photo: John Inglis/MetalTalk

The lights dim, and the stage is a sea of green. We all know what’s coming even before Paul plays that opening tapping sequence with the fans already shouting and screaming.

Green Tinted Sixties Mind gives the band a little respite as they ease into this much-loved track from 1991. Again, with fantastic harmonies, it’s clean and precise, with the masses singing all the way through. This was very heartwarming.

CDFF-Lucky This Time sees Messrs Gilbert and Sheehan have a guitar changeover. Billy holds the twin-necked Yamaha aloft and crunches into this nice slow swing of a song.

Mr. Big - The Big Finish - KK's Steel Mill, Wolverhampton - 22 March 2024
Mr. Big – The Big Finish – KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton – 22 March 2024. Photo: John Inglis/MetalTalk

Another slowish swingin’ track, Voodoo Kiss, exemplifies both guitarist’s prowess, and it’s effortless for these two virtuosos. Billy’s funky basslines are just sublime, allowing Paul to have free range on his fretboard for more funky licks.

Billy sticks with his double neck for Never Say Never. Eric clearly needs a vocal rest by now. Bless him. Michele Luppi is on hand to provide that much-needed assistance, allowing Eric to soldier on.

The beautiful Just Take My Heart intro from Gilbert stirs the crowd for this huge ballad, and they sing it all. Paul’s solo, like all the others, was absolutely precise.

My Kinda Woman is a strong favourite of the band. A hard rock song with a deep bass groove that gels with Nick in little snippets while Paul rips through the solo while not even glancing at the fretboard.

Mr. Big - The Big Finish - KK's Steel Mill, Wolverhampton - 22 March 2024
Mr. Big – The Big Finish – KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton – 22 March 2024. Photo: John Inglis/MetalTalk

“How dirty are you?” asks Eric. Nice And slow is the key to A Little Too Loose. With its Delta blues intro, deep driving chuggin’ bass before the thud of Nick’s drums, and saturated riff from Gilbert’s guitar, it is Mr. Big at their grooviest.

Road to Ruin is all about the “Woah’s”. A rocky jumpin’ song which gets the crowd singing once more.

Cue band introductions. Obviously, the Wolverhampton crowd loves them all, and each takes a small bow.

The huge hit To Be With You gets the whole of the Steel Mill swaying and singing. Eric hardly sang a note of this fabulous song, but it didn’t matter as the audience enjoyed being a part of the show.

Cat Stevens shares the space with the boys for a few minutes with Wild World. This was a great tribute to the original.

Mr. Big - The Big Finish - KK's Steel Mill, Wolverhampton - 22 March 2024
Mr. Big – The Big Finish – KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton – 22 March 2024. Photo: John Inglis/MetalTalk

There follows a bit of a Paul Gilbert guitar masterclass as the rest of the guys take a well-earned break. He pumps out some riffage from Nothing But Love and The Whole World’s Gonna Know, and the blending in of the theme from Rocky is nothing short of incredible. The way he does the guitar overtones on this is just mind-blowing.

Paul raises his hand and points to Nick on drums, who then blasts into a myriad of notes with sidekick Billy Sheehan, rocking hard into Colorado Bulldog.

The pair trade licks as the cheering crowd eggs them on for more during its brief intervals. As Eric points at Billy, you guessed it, it’s Sheehan’s time to shine with more mind-blowing musical bass wizardry.

Mr. Big - The Big Finish - KK's Steel Mill, Wolverhampton - 22 March 2024
Mr. Big – The Big Finish – KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton – 22 March 2024. Photo: John Inglis/MetalTalk

Shy Boy, the old Talas track from way back in 1982, is a fast, wild rocker with Billy singing the lead and doing a fine job, I must say.

And rest. Well, sort of. Before 30 Days In The Hole, Eric politely asks the crowd to sing with him. Of course, they fulfil his wish.

Now, on the setlist, I see Switcheroo and thought, ‘What?!’ I didn’t know this song. But in a nice, entertaining, typically Mr. Big way, they all swap instruments.

Again, I thought, what? The crowd were all laughing, thinking, ‘Oh No!’
With Billy on Vocals, Eric on Bass, Paul on the drums and Nick on guitar, Billy took the mick outta Eric, showing him how to turn the volume up.

They blast into a track called Good Lovin from 1958 by The Olympics. Everyone is quite amazed and loving this shit! It just has a fantastic vibe, and it peels off into the crowd, just fun, fun, fun!

We come to the last tune of a great rockin’ night, The Who classic Baba O’Riley, which also made its fame in the TV series CSI:NY. Paul Gilbert raises his hand once again to pay homage to the great Pete Townsend, then brings it down with force in full windmill effect.

Eric encourages the capacity crowd to start clapping along with Gilbert’s punchy notes, and Sheehan booms out some heavy bottom-end chords on his trusted Yamaha. They finish this classic with a huge crescendo, smiling at each other, knowing this was a fabulous gig. Far and wide, travellers to this fantastic venue loved every minute.

Mr. Big - The Big Finish - KK's Steel Mill, Wolverhampton - 22 March 2024
Mr. Big – The Big Finish – KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton – 22 March 2024. Photo: John Inglis/MetalTalk

The Big Finish Tour is a sad farewell to a top-draw band that is Mr. Big. Over the years, they have shaped a cool vibe with rock, blues, ballads, top musical abilities and above all, fun.

Although Eric had vocal issues this evening, he persevered like a trooper.

While he could easily have cancelled, his heart said, ‘No, we’re doing this’, and he soldiered through as best he could with a little help from his friends.

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