When Mr. Big released their self-titled debut album in 1989, I thought for sure that they were going to be the next big thing. In 1991, they nearly proved me right when their second album, Lean Into It, spawned the number one hit single, "To Be With You," and the album climbed to number fifteen on the Billboard 200 album chart, before eventually going platinum.
Anchored by one of the most versatile and talented bassists on the planet, in Billy Sheehan, along with virtuoso guitar-shredder, Paul Gilbert, the band is rounded out by veteran drummer Pat Torpey, and vocal powerhouse Eric Martin. Martin is one of the most underrated singers in the business, and his gritty, soulful vocals remind me a lot of Paul Rodgers – which is pretty good company to be in. Mr. Big's unique combination of virtuoso instrumental technique, catchy hooks and melodies, and impressive four part vocal harmonies, are what really set them apart from most other bands of the same era.
Ahhh, but we all know what happened in 1991. Nirvana released Nevermind, Pearl Jam released Ten, and grunge was on its way to conquering the world, while leaving a trail of crumpled hair metal bands in its wake. Mr. Big certainly felt the brunt of this impact, but their downfall was due more to internal strife within the band, which led to a couple of mediocre follow-up albums in 1993's Bump Ahead, and 1996's Hey Man.
In 1997, the guys eventually went their separate ways to focus on solo projects. When they decided to reunite in 1999 for their 10th anniversary, guitarist Paul Gilbert declined the offer. Mr. Big decided to carry on with guitar-shredder, and former Poison replacement, Ritchie Kotzen, who played on the band's next two albums, Get Over It, and Actual Size. Although the band's popularity in the U.S. dramatically declined during this period, they remained hugely popular in most of Asia, and especially Japan, where they continued to have major chart success and sell out large arenas. This version of the band eventually called it quits in 2002.
Back To Budokan comes on the eve of Mr. Big's Next Time Around reunion tour of 2009, which reunited the four original band members for a successful tour of Europe and Asia. The DVD was filmed in front of a sold-out crowd at the Tokyo Budokan on June 20th, 2009, where the band rips through a 20-plus song, nearly two and one half hour, set.
The setlist for this show was excellent as it features multiple songs from each of the band's first four albums, several surprising covers, an extended solo from each band member (of course), and the brand new track "Next Time Around." I was a little surprised that they did not play any tracks from the last two Ritchie Kotzen albums, considering that they were so popular in Japan, and also that they played the most songs (six) from what is probably the weakest of their first four albums, Bump Ahead.
The show kicks off in grand fashion with the Lean Into It standout track "Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy," otherwise known as "The Electric Drill Song." You will understand the title as soon as you see Paul and Billy playing the solo section while utilizing a couple of pick-attached electric drills. This is a very cool sounding gimmick that Gilbert started back in his Racer X days, and it was also borrowed by Eddie Van Halen for his "Poundcake" intro.
Early in the set the band delves into a unique cover of the Argent classic, "Hold Your Head Up," where Gilbert brilliantly handles the keyboard riffs on his guitar. The band's vocal performance on this one was especially impressive. The cover performance that really separates Mr. Big from the rest of the pack, however, was their rendition of the unrecorded Beatles' song "It's For You." If you have ever seen old footage of Three Dog Night performing this song back around 1970, Mr. Big do it in similar fashion, all clapping out the beat while singing in amazing four-part harmony. If that isn't enough, they transition right into their own heavy metal interpretation of Gustav Holst's classical opus, "The Planets, Op.32 Mars."
After several of their own pop-metal classics such as my own personal favorite, "Addicted To That Rush," to close out the first set, they return for an encore set that features the contrastingly sunny "To Be With You" and the thunderous "Colorado Bulldog." But these guys didn't fly half-way around the world just to do one measly encore set – of course they come back out and treat their dedicated Japanese fans to some more.
This time around you see Paul Gilbert behind the drum kit, Eric Martin on guitar, Pat Torpey on bass, and Billy Sheenan on lead vocals for a faithful rendition of "Smoke On The Water," and it, surprisingly, kicked ass. Just before the guitar solo, Eric hands over the guitar to Billy, who proceeds to tear through the thing better than most bar band guitarists ever could. A regular guitar looks so tiny in his gigantic hands. If that wasn't insane enough already, they close out the show with an incredible cover of The Who's "Baba O'Riley," and the Sheehan/David Lee Roth anthem, "Shy Boy."
The production quality if this DVD is aces all around. The audio tracks provided are Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and PCM 2.0 stereo and they were both mixed flawlessly. The widescreen picture looks excellent and the camera work was some of the best you are going to find on a concert DVD this year. The two DVD set comes in an impressive hard bound booklet that includes a 16-page color insert.
Bonus material included the new video for "Next Time Around" as well as about 16-minutes of footage from the band's live acoustic performance at the Tokyo Hard Rock Cafe, in February 2009, where they played "Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy," "Green-Tinted Sixties Mind," "Wild World," and "Alive And Kickin'."
Is this going to be the last reunion/breakup for the Mr. Big? I doubt it. So pick yourself up a copy of Back To Budokan and enjoy it while it lasts.
01. Introduction: Backstage and Sound Check
02. Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy (The Electric Drill Song)
03. Take Cover
04. Green-Tinted Sixties Mind
05. Alive and Kickin'
06. Next Time Around
07. Hold Your Head Up
08. Just Take My Heart
10. It's For You – Mars
11. Pat Torpey Drum Solo
12. Price You Gotta Pay
13. Stay Together
14. Wild World
15. Goin' Where The Wind Blows
16. Take a Walk
17. Paul Gilbert Guitar Solo
18. Paul Gilbert and Billy Sheehan Duo
19. Double Human Capo
20. The Whole World's Gonna Know
21. Promise Her The Moon
22. Rock & Roll Over
23. Billy Sheehan Bass Solo
24. Addicted To That Rush
01. To Be With You
02. Colorado Bulldog
03. Smoke On The Water
04. I Love You Japan
05. Baba O'Riley
Performance – 9/10
Production – 9/10