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Mr Big, Live in London

Los Angeles big-hitters play their only UK show of 2014

With new album The Stories We Could Tell under their belts and Ace Frehley's drummer Matt Starr filling in where necessary for Pat Torpey, Mr Big played a sold-out show at London's Koko last night. Here's what we learned.

Age shall not wither them The first thing to strike you about Mr. Big is that time has been kind. Bassist Billy Sheehan’s ponytail may be so thin as to be sheer and singer Eric Martin may or may not have undergone a little work to maintain his ridiculously youthful veneer, but their combined zeal – they’re physically trim, can perform effortless, pitch perfect harmony vocals as if on a whim, and their sheer bloody exuberance – makes them sound and feel like a band half their age.

Mr. Big can still surprise you When it was announced that drummer Pat Torpey would relinquish his role in the live Mr. Big band due to Parkinson’s Disease, no one would have been surprised to hear that the drummer was spending his time recuperating at home while Matt Starr took his place on tour. It was a genuine highlight then to see Torpey (to uproarious chants of ‘Pat! Pat! Pat!’) take the stage to contribute note perfect vocals on Wild World and the chart-smashing To Be With You, as well as occasional and measured stints behind the drums.

Strictly for players only Mr. Big being Mr. Big have guitar solos, bass solos, guitar and bass duels and, in what might be the highlight of the evening, the band all swap instruments for a raucous cover of Judas Priest’s Living After Midnight. Paul Gilbert takes over on drums, Billy Sheehan the lead guitar, Pat Torpey on vocals (he could probably take over as lead singer in most other bands), and Eric Martin, with one raised leg on the drum riser, on bass guitar, not to be outdone, fill-in drummer Matt Starr goes upstage to contribute the sort of backing vocals that should ensure he need never be short of work ever again.

It’s not over until it’s over With a 10pm curfew, the band takes to the stage of a sold out Koko promptly at 8 and performs a two-hour set that showcases the sometime uneven nature of the band’s back catalogue. Undertow, from the band’s reunion 2011 What If album, is an early highlight, but for each big hitter (Green-Tinted Sixties Mind, Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy), there’s the stuttering and underwhelming sound of songs like Take Cover, Out Of The Underground and the two-dimensional Colorado Bulldog. Strange too that they should end the evening – after the vibrant Living After Midnight – with a leaden version of Free’s Mr. Big. Ending the night on a strangely indifferent note.

All photos by Will Ireland. Eric Martin plays a series of solo acoustic shows in December.

Philip Wilding is a novelist, journalist, scriptwriter, biographer and radio producer. As a young journalist he criss-crossed most of the United States with bands like Motley Crue, Kiss and Poison (think the Almost Famous movie but with more hairspray). More latterly, he’s sat down to chat with bands like the slightly more erudite Manic Street Preachers, Afghan Whigs, Rush and Marillion. He ghosted Carl Barat’s acclaimed autobiography, Threepenny Memoir, and helped launch the BBC 6 Music network as producer and co-presenter on the Phill Jupitus Breakfast Show. Five years later he and Jupitus fronted the hugely popular Perfect 10 podcast and live shows. His debut novel, Cross Country Murder Song, was described, variously, as ‘sophisticated and compelling’ and ‘like a worm inside my brain’. His latest novel The Death And Life Of Red Henley is out now.