Forget what you know about old bands getting back together, because Extreme just re-wrote the book on reunion tours. Following a one-hour set by King’s X (in their hometown of Houston, TX, no less), Extreme came out to the romping sounds of “Comfortably Dumb,” with its equal parts blues & funk riffs that borrows quite liberally from Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick” and “Black Dog.” It was apparent from the first notes and the way both vocalist Gary Cherone (sporting goggles with a taped “x” over his left eye) and guitarist Nuno Bettencourt bounced around the stage that this band wasn’t going to rely on older fan appreciation to make it through the night. Nope, they came out of the gates fighting like they had something to prove. They followed up their brand new one with the energetic “Decadence Dance” from their second (Pornograffiti) album.
It seemed that not a single note or even a breath between songs was wasted during their nearly two-hour set. Gary Cherone certainly proved himself the consumate frontman, making funny comments between songs and moving like he’d get penalized by the ounce if he had any energy left at show’s end. The guy was fluid in his motions, too, looking like a professional dancer that would easily take out Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Clyde Drexler or any athlete dancer-wannabe on So You Think You Can Dance. While so many metal frontmen came off as pretentious and silly with their “expressive” hand motions and body movements during their story-telling tunes, Cherone snapped between each movement with such precision and snappy speed that you were simply impressed. His partner in showmanship, Nuno Bettencourt, looked about as cool as a skinny yet ripped long-haired guitarist could; but he carried the same sense of urgency with him, as if years of accolades and respect didn’t mean a thing to him. If you didn’t know his age or pedigree, you’d think he was some 18-year-old kid trying to conquer the world with his instrument. He was equally adept at bending his strings, like the “Voodoo Child” riffs in “Rest In Peace,” or shredding notes and blazing through quick scales as if it were effortless. I felt like I was witnessing what it would have been like to see Randy Rhoads play back in Ozzy’s early days. And while we’re dropping names, seeing Extreme on this night felt like I was seeing Aerosmith, Queen, Ozzy Osborne and Led Zeppelin all wrapped up into one energetic show.
The highlights of the show kept on coming, and it’s hard to stop and reflect upon them all; but hearing the spot-on harmonies of their latest single, “Stars,” was one impressive moment. When Bettencourt switched his axe out with an acoustic guitar, I thought, ‘Okay, here comes either “Holehearted” or “More Than Words,” but instead he and the rhythm section took a flamenco vibe for an instrumental jam. “When Cherone joined him again they did sit on barstools and deliver “More Than Words.” What happened, though, was a surprise. Usually I’m slightly turned off by a singer giving his mic to the audience for a sing-along: ‘I paid my money to see the band perform, not these bozo’s…’ But this time the Houston crowd amazed me with their perfect-pitch and enjoyable performance. I guess there’s a first time for everything. The newer ballad, “Ghost,” sounded really moving, as well. If the confidence in their faces and the swagger in their steps didn’t adequately convey that this band was both hungry and confident, pulling off the hoe-down that was “Take Us Alive” would have erased all doubts that the band had earned and won over the crowd, which gladly clapped along in rhythm to the country-fied ditty.
This reviewer never had the chance to see this band on their infamous III Sides To Every Story tour, so it was thrilling to hear tunes like “Warhead” and “Cupid’s Dead,” which both sounded as passionate and crisp as the first several times I played that album. Cherone’s gestures of pulling back a bow for the death shot was, again, well-timed and delivered with a flair that probably no one else could get away with. “Get The Funk Out” punched with more of the aggression that this night was full of. A band this old and this out of circulation is just not supposed to turn in a performance that might rank as one of the best ever witnessed. How’d they do it? Original bassist Pat Badger held his own all night, and new drummer Kevin Figueiredo pounded away all night with a precision that could have facelessly been in the background, but also powerful and consistent enough to steal a lot of the attention. Like a good tour is supposed to do, of course, it also made me want to go back and live with this new album (Saudades de Rock) for awhile. I thought Stryper’s comeback tour was impressive and full of swagger, but this one raised the bar ever higher.
When the show was over, I confered with my friends. “Will they play ‘Am I Ever Gonna Change’ or ‘Holehearted,’ or both?” After their first break longer than what seemed like a couple of deep breaths all evening, the opening notes to “Am I Ever Gonna Change” came ringing out of Bettencourt’s well-worn guitar. The bombastic power of that tune shook the room like Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” It was royal, intimidating, and epic all at once. And the song’s biblical and passionate prayer was a significant endcap to the evening. It was so good that most of the jaws in the room were probably agape with awe. It was like the knockout punch after nearly 120 minutes of non-stop body punches. Without switching to an acoustic guitar the band finished up the night with “Holehearted” and then they thanked the crowd, bowed and left the stage. If I was younger, I would have made the trip the next night to Dallas to drink up more of this intoxicating concoction. Wow.
There was an opening band for this Houston show, which played one song too many, which meant that there were no vocals to be heard from the singing bass player’s mouth, much to his chagrin. King’s X played an energetic and powerful set that featured new songs, like the profound “Pray,” the encouraging “Alright,” and the Gospel-tinged “Go Tell Somebody.” Those tunes sounded really good live and I noticed (for the first time) that both Jerry and Ty were singing along in harmony to the chorus lines of “Pray for me.” The heavy “Groove Machine” opened the show, and older songs like “Dogman,” “Black Flag,” “We Were Born To Be Loved” and “Looking For Love” sprinkled the set with familiarity. Before the encore, my friends and I played that fun game of “What are they gonna play next?” We all should have known that they couldn’t leave a show undone without playing “Over My Head,” but they did surprise us with a tune from their first album, which debuted on Headbanger’s Ball some twenty years ago — “King.” The guys in Extreme let it be known that they were honored to play with King’s X on this tour, but I’ll be danged if Extreme didn’t actually put on a better show than one of the greatest rock/metal bands of all time. I’m still feeling the good memories of this amazing show three days later.