8th August 2017

If You Don’t Like What You See Here… Extreme Review

Al King gives his verdict on Saturday night’s headliners…
Its 21:30 on Saturday night at the 2017 Ramblin’ Man Fair. The sun is setting.
Black Star Riders, Dokken, Glenn Hughes have already played solid sets. Rival Sons are tempting the young and the hip over to the Grooverider Stage. Kenny Wayne Shepherd has the blues cognoscenti in the palm of his hand in the Outlaw Country tent. A handful of stragglers are gathering for headliners Extreme.
 
I’m one of them and I’m nervous. Very nervous. I’ve told the lads that they’re going to surprise people. I’ve told the lads that Nuno is going to own it. Reputation and credibility are at stake. 
 
I need not have worried. Extreme’s performance was head and shoulders above the rest of the bill; tangibly. Tight, slick and professional it was a lesson in what a AAA show looks and sounds like.
 
Standing in the middle of the crowd watching Extreme on Saturday I made a point of looking at the audience reaction. It was clearly polarised into ecstatic fans and confused onlookers, not really sure what it was they were seeing. I’d like to shed some light on that.
 
You may have missed it but Nuno said “We are delighted to be headlining our first ever festival. It only took us 30 years.” That’s what’s different about tonight. Indoors a band have total control of the environment and the crowd is theirs. Not so at a festival. There are plenty of doubters and Extreme have not really had to deal with that before. Go on then, prove it.
 
Extreme may have been huge once, but not anymore. Despite that, they took this show very seriously. Few of us will ever see a performance of that caliber again.
 
Extreme’s musical influences are well known: Van Halen, Queen, Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin. Their affection for Queen is particularly significant. The band played at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992 and Brian may is a huge fan of Nuno’s guitar playing. They also did a cover of Love Of My Life, with Brian May on electric guitar, on their “Song For Love” single.
 
Those influences are writ large over the set the perform. It starts with a 3 track run from Pornograffitti. It’s a Monster, Li’l Jack Horny and Get the Funk Out. The latter has even some of the naysayers reluctantly swinging their hips. What becomes clear is that they have retained a super star attitude if not status.
 
The next section of the set is a selection from the post Pornograffitti albums: Rest in Peace and Slide. Kid Ego and Play with Me take us back to the oft overlooked 1989 debut.
 
Then it’s time to showcase the phenomenal Nuno Bettencourt. You may be unaware but he’s been writing, recording, touring and producing constantly since the early 90’s Extreme heyday. He’s also now Rhianna’s guitarist and he hasn’t aged at all.
 
He performs a show stopping solo acoustic piece called Midnight Express, synched with lights, drums and occasional synth stabs it workswell as a son et lumiere in the outdoor context.
 
Once the acoustic guitar is out, the chart topping, air wave bothering More Than Words is inevitable. Nuno welcomes his “brother” Garyback to the stage, who also hasn’t aged at all.
 
That’s where the Aerosmith influence is most apparent. Nuno and Gary are a latter day Steve and Joe. But minus the drugs and alcohol. Less the Toxic Twins, more the two Peter Pans of Rock.
 
By the time the band let the crowd take over vocal duties, the connection with Queen’s Love Of My Life is obvious, and quite deliberately so. It’s a magical moment which recharges the now clichéd ballad with new magic.
 
1992’s III Sides to Every Story was always going to struggle to follow the immensity of Pornograffitti, and indeed it did, but
Cupid’s Dead and Am I Ever Gonna Change are highlights which find their way into the set, the latter once again revealing that Queen connection.
 
Take Us Alive from Saudades de Rock (2008) is a surprise inclusion but adds fantastic variety (an Extreme calling card) in the form of country shred.
 
Hole Hearted was released as the fourth and final single and was the closing track from Pornograffitti. It acts as a set closer here. Once again it features the acoustic and once again the band take the opportunity to add variety and homage, this time with a cover of Crazy Little Thing Called Love.
 
There is no doubt the Nuno Bettencourt is one of the most talented, iconic and influential guitarists of all time. He’s proved it several times this evening already but the jaw dropping virtuosity of Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee has to be seen to be believed.
 
The last section of the set is designed to deliver the knockout punch. Most of the crowd are clearly on the ropes after a series of well-planned combinations from this extremely talented all-rounder.
 
Decadence Dance evokes the spirit of Led Zep by way of being an up tempo Rock ‘n’ Roll style riff in the same key (A). Used as the album opener on Pornograffitti, it’s the first encore and one last descent into funk metal madness. 
 
When the band second encore with We Are the Champions, it’s clear that whether they know it or not, Extreme are the spiritual successors to Queen. They quite simply out classed everyone else here and reminded us just how high the bar can be set.
 
As for how they polarize music fans, I suspect the diehards would be saying “I told you so” while the naysayers probably hate them even more. I was delighted, however, to note that Prog mag editor Jerry Ewing noted on his FB blog “Boy did they rock the place with aplomb. Happy to stand corrected.”
 
That’s enough for me.
– Al King
Extreme live at Ramblin' Man 2017. Photo: Mick Hutson

Extreme live at Ramblin’ Man 2017. Photo: Mick Hutson