CONCERT REVIEW: EXTREME & LIVING COLOUR Rock Austin Hard, More Than Words Can Describe (February 19th, 2024)

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Extreme have always been one of those bands who were unfairly lumped in with their more successful and often less worthy contemporaries. I fault no one for enjoying the hair bands that defined what “rock” and “metal” were supposed to be in the 80s – you like what you like, and that’s completely fine. But what always set Extreme several cuts above their peers was that there was so much substance underneath Nuno Bettencourt‘s flashy playing and Gary Cherone‘s stage-strutting. Extreme were a band that not only dared tackle societal ills while their buddies in El Lay focused on chasing tail, but they also fused so much non-rock into their lively compositions and did so with enough panache to obliterate any accusation that their funk/samba/country/blues/bossanova/big band/prog/metal rock sound was mere gimmickry. And man could those guys harmonize. I had a helluva time defending Extreme in the early 2000s, when metal was either dead or nu, insisting that they were only guilty of being glam by association. It was tough. But I knew I was right.

Decades later, I finally got to tick them – along with fellow funk rockers Living Colour – off the fabled bucket list of bands I thought I’d never get to see. Off the heels of last year’s excellent Six” record, it was about damn time Extreme ventured outside of New England to do a proper US tour. Based on the reception they got at Austin’s Moody Theater on February 19, I won’t be surprised if they hit the road more often.

I can think of no better band to accompany Extreme on the road than Living Colour. Both bands hailed from the northeast at roughly the same time and had a similar career trajectory blending funk with heavy rock, hip-hop, and other styles. Both have famously masterful guitarist bandleaders in Vernon Reid and Nuno Bettencourt, exceptional frontmen in Corey Glover and Gary Cherone, and the same knack for making thought-provoking music that also happens to slap.

Living Colour are in absolutely fine form even in their fifth decade, Glover‘s silver braids signifying a streak of wisdom this band has possessed since their inception in the early 80s. Clad in a stylish purple suit that radiated his band’s bold take on classiness, Glover‘s voice is one that has aged maybe a week or two since breakout hit “Cult of Personality” hit the airwaves back in 1988. Legendary bassist Doug Wimbish‘s frenetic energy belied his 67 years, and the chemistry he and stand-in drummer James ‘Biscuit’ Rouse had together would have fooled anyone into thinking these two had been performing together for decades. And Reid was an absolute madman on his guitar, playing with such ease and passion to make it look like he was caressing the damn thing rather than playing it. Many shredders speak of their instrument being an extension of themselves, but in Reid‘s case, it’s no hyperbole.

Extreme hit the stage as if they were born to be on it, with Bettencourt and bassist Pat Badger fully enthralled in their stage personas while Cherone, looking much like Keith Richards with a few centuries shaved off, ran amok like a loosed hell beast. I sincerely cannot tell if photographing Extreme was such a challenge because I was too engrossed in their performance to actually shoot, or if they just can’t stay put long enough for me to take a damn picture. In either case, the energy and fire these guys still have in their performance ought to have bands a third Extreme‘s age scribbling furiously in their notebooks. These guys don’t just still have it, they probably have more of it than they did in their heyday.

Cherone in particular surprised me. Most dudes his age are ready to retire, but here he was literally running laps around the Moody’s stage, oozing the rock star bravado that certainly earned him his brief tenure in Van Halen, belting out challenging yet engaging songs like “Decadence Dance” with a remarkably well-preserved voice. What a shame that Vince Neil didn’t come to this guy for advice back when such advice would have been helpful.

For all the swagger that animates Cherone, he still has the humility to let Nuno do most of the talking in between songs. And talk he did: he cheerfully greeted the Texas crowd by saying “we appreciate chawl!” and poking fun at the band’s (and the crowd’s), uh, maturity by asking “who saw us way back in the 1900s?” And it can’t go unstated that as gracefully as Badger and Cherone have aged, Nuno looks freaking exactly the way he did in the 90s. I blame all the Lobo e Falcão.

Clearly unhappy with simply playing their own songs by the book, Extreme took great but respectful liberties in shaking things up, peppering their repertoire with the occasional rock classic like “We Will Rock You,” even going so far as to dedicate a song to all the mothers and sisters in the crowd only to perform the intro to “Fat Bottomed Girls,” segueing that into “Banshee.” These dudes are clearly still young in both physique and at heart. Extreme also made wise use of medleys, fusing a bunch of cuts from their oft-overlooked debut into one lengthy tune, while also tacking “That’s All Right” (made famous by Elvis Presley) onto their own “Take Us Alive,” and “Song For Love” onto “Small Town Beautiful.”

Despite the pomp and silliness, the insanely high level of musicianship on stage never wavered, and was further accented with liberal use of two- and three-part vocal harmonies that were both spot fucking on, but still rough enough around the edges to dissuade the backing track suspicions one must have when attending a concert these days. The craftsmanship that goes into an Extreme performance was actually on fuller display when they stripped things down for “Other Side of the Rainbow,” for which Nuno played a white 12-string acoustic while longtime drummer Kevin Figueiredo found himself downstage with his bandmates at a miniature kit, the band awash in colorful light that honored the song’s title. Cherone shocked me by taking over acoustic duties so Nuno could take his solo, and before I even realized it, the band were chugging through the country-twinged “Hole Hearted.”

Nuno continued to charm the audience by heckling both the crowd and himself, comparing sitting down at his age to having an orgasm and telling silly stories about an expensive hat he bought in Nashville. But the love for Van Halen was always palpable, in Cherone‘s onstage antics and especially in Nuno‘s reverent renditions of “Eruption,” and “Women in Love,” after which he finger-gunned skyward and hailed King Edward. The evening was full of love, surprises, and a genuine feeling of unity as Extreme dished out a monstrous 21-song set (27 if you account for the medleys). No bucket list band has ever disappointed me, and while I can’t say there weren’t some songs I sorely wished had been included (“Warheads” and “In God We Trust” especially), few have left me feeling as uplifted as Extreme has. They’d better not wait such a long time to hit the road again.

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1 Comment

  1. You nailed the review and thanks for providing those new to Extreme the history lesson. I have seen them now 5 times and they sound better than ever. The greatest rock band going now and for sure the greatest band not enough people have heard of. Nuno was on fire and showed he is the heir to the throne left vacant from EVH.

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