Extreme – “Pornograffitti Tour” Live Review
Kentish Town Forum, Tuesday 8th July, 2014.
When I was sixteen, way back in 1991, there was something called the Britannia Music Club. They advertised on the back of the Sunday newspaper supplements and hooked you in by giving you up to six albums for the price of one as an introductory offer. All you had to do was to buy six full price albums over the space of the next two years off them. Sounds great, doesn’t it? I certainly thought it did at the time and eagerly topped up my Beatles and Queen collections with lovely cassette versions of some classic albums. However, there was a catch. Of course there was a catch! Every month they’d send you a catalogue, together with their “recommended album of the month” which, if you didn’t want, you had to put a cross in the box and post it back (paying your own postage too). There lies the problem. What sixteen year old do you know organised enough to do this without fail? Inefficiency was punished by copies of albums you really didn’t want and this is how I came to be the owner of an unwanted copy of “Pornograffitti” by Extreme. Of course, they made it difficult to return anything you didn’t want, you had to pay for postage yourself and send it registered delivery which often left people to come to the conclusion that it was easier just to keep the album and pay for it. Funny how things work out, because it, along with Alice Cooper’s “Hey Stoopid” and the Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Use Your Illusion” albums, became my most loved and most played album of the year. The songs were great, but, if I’m honest, it was all about Nuno Bettencourt’s guitar playing, the likes of which I’d never really heard before at that point in my life. Hardcore Extreme fans, at this point, will be wanting to point out that “Pornograffitti” was released in 1990. However, it was only because of the success of the “Get The Funk Out” and “More Than Words” singles, both released in 1991, did it begin to sell huge amounts in the UK. Indeed, the last single from the album, the Queen-like “Song For Love” was released in 1992.
That lengthy pre-amble is meant to explain how I, along with several thousand others, ended up queueing up outside the Kentish Town Forum in London last night to see Extreme perform “Pornograffitti” in its entirety. There was a discernible buzz of anticipation in the very lengthy line and all the buzz was about Bettencourt. It was apparent that he is a special player to many people and rightly so. It would probably have made it even more of a special event to me if I hadn’t attended one of their gigs in 2009 to support their excellent comeback record “Saudades De Rock” and fulfilled that particular teenage dream, but I was still looking forward to this one considerably more than many of the gigs I go to. Was it purely a nostalgia buzz? I don’t think so. The love of Extreme’s material has endured over the years and their second and third albums, especially, often get played. I eventually got inside at around 7.30pm, managed to get a pretty decent spot and the Forum slowly filled up to heaving capacity, the heat and excitement rising. Many of the clientèle were around my age, but there were also a considerable amount of young people and some quite a bit older; this really was a show for all the family, it seems. The support act, Leogun, a three piece hard rock outfit from London, warmed the crowd up well with an energy-packed, eclectic range of rock, blues and soul influences, with more than a little hint of Led Zeppelin. They were a cut about your average support act, so it’s no surprise they already have an impressive record deal.
Then it was time. The lights dimmed, the thunder crashed and the cascading piano introduction led to that thumping, metallic beat and that room shaking guitar chord. The stage lights went up as the crowd eagerly lapped up the opening riff to “Decadence Dance” and a lithe, fit Gary Cherone, a guy in his early fifties, started to strut, leap and dominate the stage like the born frontman he is. In fact, they were all looking and sounding fantastic; they had the energy levels of bands half their ages. Even bassist Pat Badger who, back in 2009, clearly looked his age, was leaner, more energetic and seemed to be considerably more youthful than he’d been five years previously. Not sure how that works, but I can only imagine all of the band have prepared well for a punishing tour schedule and were definitely bringing their ‘A’ game to the Forum. The performance of the album continued with “Li’l Jack Horny”, a triumphant “When I’m President” and Badger took to the front of the stage for the bass-introduction to fan favourite “Get The Funk Out” which led to an impressive sing-along from the audience. Not as impressive as the performance of “More Than Words” (“This belongs to you, it always has done”, said Cherone, introducing the song) which saw the audience of the packed Forum taking the vocals for the majority of the song. Regardless of whether you love that song as much as some people do, it was a genuinely beautiful moment to hear so many voices in unison coming together and both Gary and Nuno looked visibly touched.
The trio of hard rockers, “Money (In God We Trust)”, “It (‘s A Monster)” and “Pornograffitti” got the audience rocking again and I had to remind myself that it was a trio of musicians making such a glorious noise behind Cherone’s impressive vocals. A keyboard was brought onto the stage for “When I First Kissed You” and Nuno demonstrated his ample talent for the piano, although, I’m sad to say, the audience were less than respectful and too many people were talking throughout the lounge-singer pastiche. That’s one of the problems with doing an album from start to finish; when the audience are in a rock groove and are then asked to change moods completely for something light and romantic, it doesn’t always work. The band touched on that when they sat down to perform “More Than Words”. Still, it was an excellent performance and Gary’s vocals really hit the spot, not that enough people were really listening. “Suzi (Wants Her All Day What?)”, despite being my least favourite song on the album, was huge fun, but what came next was what a lot of Bettencourt fans were waiting for, a live performance of “Flight Of The Wounded Bumblebee”. Nuno crossed himself before he began the insanely fast guitar solo and the audience collectively held their breath and the tension built as they watched the prodigiously talented axeman’s fingers blur up and down the frets. A huge roar of appreciation came from the crowd as Bettencourt gave a near-flawless rendition before the whole band rejoined the stage for a rendition of “He-Man Woman Hater”, a song which has lyrics you really can’t think too deeply about and makes you hope that they’re deeply steeped in irony. Great riff, though. Yeah, that’s it, concentrate on the riff.
Admirably, the band had elected to perform “Song For Love”, the album’s biggest song in terms of instrumentation and arrangement, without any further enhancements to the sound. They could have gone with backing tracks, but they made the right decision, as the song stood on its own merits and sounded absolutely wonderful. The album’s likeable, bouncy final track, “Hole Hearted” saw Kevin on a mini drum kit down the front with the rest of the band and a Kentish Town crowd singing along enthusiastically. The four musicians exited the stage to deafening applause and much deserved standing ovations from the seated crowd upstairs in the circle. They returned to the stage at around 10.30pm and gave us half an hour more of hits (and more), including first single “Play With Me”, magnificent performances of “Rest In Peace” and “Am I Ever Gonna Change” from their magnum opus “III Sides To Every Story” (if ever an album needed to be performed from start to finish by Extreme, it’s that one), a Spanish guitar solo from Nuno that I didn’t recognise and “Cupid’s Dead” (with Cherone singing Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” over the excellent Kevin Figueiredo’s powerful drum beat intro). Unfortunately, time had run out and the band accepted the audience’s warm appreciation with Gary accepting handshakes, hugs and even over-enthusiastic kisses from the audience on the barrier. “We’ve got to do this all over again tomorrow!” said Nuno with probably an only half-joking groan. Considering the amount of passion and sheer energy the four men gave last night, you can understand the challenge, but I imagine they will give tonight’s audience every bit the committed, dazzling show they treated us to.
All-in-all, it was a fantastic night. Yes, some of the songs from “Pornograffitti” are big and dumb, but so is Homer Simpson and he’s almost universally loved. In my opinion, the best was yet to come from the Boston boys, but their second album is a massively enjoyable piece of work and the level of musicianship displayed (by Bettencourt and Badger especially) and replicated so passionately in their live show by all four men cannot be overstated. Nuno is a mercurial talent, a very special player indeed and just to see him live is worth the admission price alone. However, Extreme aren’t just the Nuno show and it would be unfair to suggest they were. The band are a tight, impressive outfit and all of the players are impressive performers, arguably at the very top of their game at this current moment in time. It makes me wonder what they could have achieved if they’d have stayed together all this time. Hopefully the future will bring new studio albums, a twentieth anniversary tour of “III Sides To Every Story” and more exhilarating, brilliant shows like last night. One thing is for sure, tonight’s audience are in for a real treat.
Andy Sweeney, 9th July, 2014.