Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Extreme - Birmingham Review

There was obviously something in the American water during the late 1980s that meant that some rock bands started incorporating funk influences into their music. Two of the main exponents of that style of music, Extreme and the Dan Reed Network, teamed this month for a tour of the UK. While not exactly the calibre of band that they once more, Extreme still remain a popular draw in the UK. This, coupled with the fact that they tour over here relatively infrequently, means that their shows are always well-attended. Extreme's last UK trek was back in 2014, which was to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the band's most well-known album Pornograffitti. The tour was a big success, with the multi-platinum album being performed in full each night, and most of the tours sold out. Despite regular mentions and promises of a new album in the media, the band have not been forthcoming with releasing any new music. This has not deterred the band from returning however and, after a successful headline slot at this year's Ramblin' Man Fair, Extreme returned to these shores for another series of headline dates across the country. Without a new album, or any major anniversaries to celebrate, the format of the band's show this time around took the form of a more traditional greatest hits set with songs from all five of Extreme's studio albums featuring throughout the night. The venue of choice for me was the decent-sized O2 Academy in Birmingham. This venue has never been a particular favourite of mine, in fact I had not been to the venue since seeing Extreme there last time in 2014, due to the low stage and often unreliable sound. I sat up in the balcony last time, which improved the experience somewhat, but this time I opted to try the floor again. I found a decent spot near the back which actually afforded me a pretty decent view throughout, and to my surprise the sound was also pretty good. Both bands sounded clear and everything was nice and loud.

As mentioned previously, the Dan Reed Network were the evening's opening act. Dan Reed (vocals) and his band are quite well-known in their own right however, and received a strong reception from the crowd throughout their 45 minute set. I had only started listening to the band recently, and I have to say I was truly blown away by their show. From the opening grooves of the cinematic Cruise Together, to the closing dancey beats of Get To You, Reed held the crowd in the palm of his hand. Despite only being casually familiar with the band's four studio albums, I recognised each of the nine songs played and revelled in the layers and grooves packed into each song. Reed himself is an excellent frontman and singer, but Brion James (guitar/vocals) often stole his thunder with plenty of slinky riffs and powerful shredded solos that saw him come across like a more rock-orientated Nile Rodgers. All of the songs played were excellent, but personal highlights included the uptempo hard rock of Baby Now I and the more reflective and low-key Champion, from their 2016 come-back album Fight Another Day, that made great use of Rob Daiker's (keyboards/vocals) soundscapes. The real highlight of the set however was a potent version of Ritual, one of the band's best-known songs, that really saw the crowd come alive with plenty of dancing and singing. While I had been aware of the Dan Reed Network for some time, it is only over the past couple of months that I have really started to listen to their music in earnest. Having now seen the band perform this excellent set in Birmingham, I will make an effort to see them on their next headline UK tour as I have no doubts that their own show will be a special experience. After their set, the whole band went to one of the merch stands in the venue to sign autographs and take picture with fans. I managed to get my copy of Fight Another Day signed by the whole band which was a great addition to the evening. The setlist was:

Cruise Together
Under My Skin
Forgot to Make Her Mine
Baby Now I
Rainbow Child
Make It Easy
Get To You

Some band's would have struggled to follow Reed's energy and songcraft, but Extreme are no ordinary band and, once they hit the stage, wowed the capacity crowd with over two hours of bona fide hits, fan-favourites, and deep cuts from their back catalogue. Opening with three numbers from the much-loved Pornograffitti was a wise move, and this helped to set the mood early on. It ('s a Monster) was a high energy opener, before the groovy Li'l Jack Horny and the smash-hit Get the Funk Out really established that this was a rock 'n' roll party. The latter proved to be the first real sing-a-long of the night, conducted by energetic frontman Gary Cherone, and the atmosphere throughout was excellent. Cherone proved during the night why his often considered one of the best rock frontmen of all time, but it was often guitarist Nuno Bettencourt that stole the show with his jaw-dropping fretboard theatrics. He really is one of the best guitarists of all time, and seeing him strut his stuff up on the stage once more was something to behold. The first half of the show was packed full of fan favourites, with Rest in Peace and Kid Ego impressing early on, before an extended version of Play With Me, with a great drum solo from Kevin Figueiredo in the middle of it which also saw Bettencourt join in with his own small percussion set, brought the first part of the show to an end. A short acoustic-led section followed with a rare outing of Tragic Comic impressing before another big hit in the form of Hole Hearted prompted another big sing-a-long. After Bettencourt's acoustic guitar showcase Midnight Express, the second 'electric' portion of the show kicked off with the raw rock of Cupid's Dead before the band played a few lesser-known tracks. Newer numbers like Take Us Alive, from 2008's Saudades de Rock which actually went down surprisingly well with it's pseudo-country trappings, and older deeper cuts like Stop the World set the mood for this second portion and it was great to hear some songs which do not always make the cut. It was during the second portion however that some of the crowd seemed to get a little bored, which was a shame. It is always hard for bands to choose setlists that will keep the majority of fans happy, and it seemed the inclusion of some of these lesser-known songs caused the minds of some of the more casual fans to wander. They were soon brought back around however with a couple more tracks from Pornografitti to close out the main set. He-Man Woman Hater, with Bettencourt's impressive guitar intro, went down well, but as soon as the band hit Decadence Dance the place erupted and Cherone did not even bother to sing the first couple of lines of the song as the crowd did that for him. It it one of my favourite Extreme songs, and it was a powerful way to end a set that by this point was well over the 90 minute mark. After much baying from the crowd, the band came back out for a four-song encore. The acoustic mega-hit More Than Words was first up with the crowd often singing louder than Cherone once more, but it was the high-energy rock of Warheads that stood out for me during this section. It is another personal favourite, so it was great to finally hear it live. The relatively more relaxed Peacemaker Die and a rousing cover of Queen's We are the Champions ended the show in style, with the band rocking on high energy to the end and taking the crowd with them. The setlist was:

It ('s a Monster)
Li'l Jack Horny
Get the Funk Out
Rest in Peace
Hip Today
Kid Ego
Play With Me
Tragic Comic
Hole Hearted
Midnight Express
Cupid's Dead
Everything Under the Sun - Part II: Am I Ever Gonna Change
Take Us Alive
Stop the World
He-Man Woman Hater
Decadence Dance
More Than Words
Peacemaker Die
We are the Champions [Queen cover]

Overall this was a great evening of high-energy funky rock from two of the best exponents of the sound. Extreme are legends for a reason and their diverse set was excellent, but the Dan Reed Network more than held their own and provided the perfect opening act for the high-octane Extreme.

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