Eric Martin, “the voice of Mr. Big,” is no stranger to Irish shores, having visited various venues across the island in the last few years, and a stop up North is usually on the itinerary. That being said, the last time he played a show here was back in 2015 in Voodoo, so a return was long overdue. As is custom with his solo tours these day, it’s a wholly acoustic affair. And that applies to the support acts too, both of which will be familiar to local rock fans.
First up is Tom Harte – those with a taste for hard rock might be more familiar with Tom as frontman for Trucker Diablo. But tonight Tom is flying solo. Playing to a slowly filling Empire Music Hall, he starts into ‘What About Us’ which the crowd reacts warmly too, prompting Harte to note how “civilised” the crowd seemed. The following two songs, ‘One More Minute’ and ‘How Will You Remember Me?’ show off Harte’s vocals well, the rock influences clearly coming through in the guitar parts and melodies. Wrapping up with ‘Prison Walls’ – a song about his earliest memory going to prison to visit his father – he finishes a confident set and a rare solo appearance in Belfast.
Next up is Blackwater Conspiracy, a full band set up this time, albeit an acoustic set up. Although usually a straight up rock and roll band, the acoustic performance allows the group’s musicianship to shine through, with flawless vocals and harmonies from start to finish. Beginning their set with ‘The Monday Club’ they set the tone for the rest of their set, with lead vocalist Phil Conalane showing off his impressive vocals, a real classic, Bon Scott-esque voice. Songs like ‘Hangin Tree’ and ‘Decadent Highway’ clearly let the harmonies shine through, and it’s an impressive sound, with the country-tinged songs really moving the audience. They also let lead guitarist Brian Mallon show his chops, with some seriously impressive finger work. Finishing with ‘Shootin The Breeze,’ and the promise of a new album in the pipeline, the Blackwater boys leave the stage having thoroughly warmed up the crowd for the main act, and gaining a few new fans along the way.
And with their exit the stage is set for the main act, Mr Big himself, Eric Martin. He takes to the stage with guitarist David Cotterill, of British melodic metal band Demon. Speaking of how much he missed Ireland, we’re treated to set packed with Mr Big hits, a few solo numbers and one or two surprises.
Opening with solo track ‘Untouchable’ it’s testament to the strength of Martin’s solo and Mr Big back catalogue that a solo song like that followed by ‘Going Where The Wind Blows” and “A Rose Alone” can feature so early in the set. Remarking about how much older he is now from when he last played Belfast, Martin is clearly in good form, although we would expect nothing else from a vocalist who delivers the best with every show.
Over the next hour and a half, we’re treated to songs spanning his career, from their cover of Cat Steven’s ‘Wild World’ – which has the audience in full voice – to 2000s Get Over It cut ‘Superfantastic’ which was exactly that. Between songs Martin is more than happy interacting with crowd, telling stories of how the tour started with a bus and now it’s just himself and David touring in a small Trabant-like car, Scottish tour managers having to deal with him the past (this after downing his pint of Guinness), and various heckles and song requests.
Mocking the unintelligible shouts from the crowd, he reminds us that “I usually have Paul Gilbert on one side and Billy Sheehan on the other” so his hearing isn’t what it used to be. The reference to his Mr Big virtuoso band mates of course getting a big cheer. He follows this with more songs from earlier in his career, like ballad ‘Promise Her The Moon’ to later tracks like ‘Fragile.’ And the night couldn’t have passed by without a reference to the late Pat Torpey, Mr Big drummer, to whom Martin dedicates ‘Take Cover,’ a moving tribute and a song which he says has taken on a new meaning since Torpey’s passing.
Whilst we’re all here to see Martin, it has to be noted how brilliant Cotterill sounds with him, the two bouncing off each other effortlessly, the vocals adding a fantastic harmony, not to mention the impressive lead guitar work. Having someone so proficient on guitar and vocals to perform with certainly marks this gig as something a little different to previous gigs with Eric Martin. It also means that when it comes to the big hitters like ‘Green Tinted Sixties Mind’ Martin, ever the showman, is free to move around the stage uninhibited.
On songs like crowd favourite ‘Daddy Brother Little Boy’ it allows Cotterill to show off his prowess, although there isn’t a drill in sight for that one. Of course it’s not too long before it’s time for mega-hit ‘To Be With You’ which has everyone singing and cheering along in unison. In a bit of a twist we’re then treated to the song again, this time as an upbeat, country type song, much to everyone’s surprise and glee. Finishing with an extended version of ‘Dancing With My Devils’ Martin exits stage left.
It takes a certain kind of frontman to front a band like Mr Big, it takes a special one to be able to hold his own without a trio of super talented musicians behind him, but Eric Martin still proves to be every bit as engaging and entertaining as ever, and still possessing one of the finest voices in rock and roll.