Live Review: Extreme – Manchester Academy 30.11.23

“We’ve got no business putting out an album at this stage in our career”.

So says legendary guitarist Nuno Bettencourt, part way through Extreme’s Manchester Academy show. Indeed, they are out in support of a new record, Six, their first studio album in 15 years. Maybe that’s how they feel as a band, 30-something years into their career and regarded by some as a ‘legacy’ band. However, unsurprisingly, Nuno is not finding much agreement among the packed out Academy.

I’m inclined to agree with the assembled masses too. The album itself has a few highs and lows, but there are some genuinely strong tracks on here, and they’re a solid addition to the live repertoire. They open on familiar ground though, with Pornograffitti’s It (‘s A Monster) and Decadence Dance. They know their audience after all. It’s a typically high energy start to an Extreme live show. Nuno distorting his guitar against the wall of Marshall amps, Pat Badger’s bassline hums into life, before Kevin Figueiredo’s drums light Gary Cherone’s blue touchpaper and he goes off like a rocket, lunging, posing and reaching out to the crowd with the energy of a man half his age.

And then we’re off, and it never really stops. For the best part of 2 hours, we’re carried along on a wave of both nostalgia and new funk-metal. #REBEL is the first of the new music to make an appearance, and the crowd are here for it. Even with the long break between records, Extreme have toured quite consistently over the years, and it’s obvious that they know just how to craft the setlist to keep the audience at a peak throughout.

Contrary to Cherone’s athletic performing, he’s more reserved when it comes to engaging with the audience. He’s much more circumspect and leaves the chatter to Nuno, which he does with self-deprecating aplomb. “This is my favourite part of the show” he confesses, as he sits down for the virtuoso guitar performance of Midnight Express. Sitting down once your past 50 is apparently better than sex, but may also be welcome as he’s still wearing a knee brace from a previous injury. This relaxed, off the cuff chat means that this feels like those gigs in small venues, where the band and the audience can converse and interact. The pit barrier is no obstacle to a genuinely warm engagement with the diehard fans who sold this venue out months ago.

That fanbase is treated to all the classics, along with some great rarities and neat snippets of cover versions which link the set together. Yes we heard (and sang) More Than Words and Hole Hearted, but there will have been people leaving the venue far happier having heard the debut album medley of Teacher’s Pet, Flesh ‘n’ Blood, Wind Me Up and Kid Ego. We Will Rock You segues into Play With Me, Sam Cooke’s Cupid is the intro to Cupid’s Dead while Queen make an appearance again, Fat Bottomed Girls offering the opening to new track, BANSHEE.

The main set concludes with Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee crashing into Get The Funk Out, and we’re transported back to being teenagers in the 90s, every word furiously sung back at the band that clearly knows how to hold its audience in the palm of their hand.

They take a risk with the encore, coming back with two songs from the new record. SMALL TOWN BEAUTIFUL kicks off their return to the stage (although it’s spliced with Song For Love, which helps mitigate the risk to some extent). It’s well received though, with some enthusiastic singing of the soaring chorus, before things end on a high with RISE. One of the highlights of the new record, it stands out as a song that’s recognisably Extreme, resonant of the late great Eddie Van Halen, but feels entirely contemporary. Produced by Nuno on the record, you can hear the hand of someone who’s kept close to the changes in the industry and that keeps it sounding fresh. He’s played on several of Rihanna’s tours and joined her in the Super Bowl Half Time show, and he’s an artist that, while true to his hard rock roots, still has the ability to cut it.

So, I respectfully disagree with Nuno’s statement. It would have been easy for Extreme to keep touring and become their own tribute band, but while they’re turning out tracks like RISE, we’ll all be looking forward to album number 7 and hoping that it comes some time before 2038.

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