There are many clichés about music being some kind of a mystical force in the universe. Music is the international language. Music is good for the soul. Music is a healing force. Music is a great unifier. Clichés exist, because they are generally true. Anyone who was at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills on Wednesday evening, May 23rd, can bear witness to each of these proverbial statements and their legitimacy, for they were on hand to experience a very rare event. Mr. Big and friends and friends and friends treated the packed house to an evening of music, kinship, celebration and legacy. Founding member and drummer for Mr. Big, Pat Torpey, passed away in February, after a years’ long battle with Parkinson’s disease. His band mates and numerous musical compadres showed up to impart a healthy dose of the aforementioned sentiments.
The evening began with a short video of Torpey playing a drum solo from days past. The video ushered in an opening set by former Mr. Big guitarist, Richie Kotzen and his band. Drummer Mike Bennett and bassist Dylan Wilson accompany Kotzen through an abbreviated, six song performance. Short though it may have been, uninspired, it was not! Maybe it was the fact that this was a night dedicated to his late friend. Maybe it was because there were about 25 professional musicians in attendance for an all-star tribute to come later in the festivities. Whatever the reason, Kotzen and company delivered a whirlwind exhibition. Kotzen lifted his drink in a toast to Torpey prior to the final two songs, Help Me and Fear. These last two numbers are played with an intensity akin to throwing gasoline on an already blazing fire.
Mr. Big takes the stage after their manager briefly addresses the room. They too seem a bit charged up, possibly feeding off the electricity in the room and emotion of the evening. They begin with Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy. Billy Sheehan and Paul Gilbert play the solo on bass and guitar respectively with their trademark power drilled strings. Eric Martin is very animated and is all smiles as he belts out the vocals to the second tune, Alive and Kickin’. Having a huge following in Japan, there is a group of several Japanese faithful who flew in specifically for this show. Sheehan would later point out there were fans from Ecuador and Korea as well, who made the trek to be at this event. The adrenaline of the evening made their set seem to just fly by. Matt Starr, who has been handling primary drumming duties for the last four years, sets the pace for the final two tunes. Addicted to That Rush and Colorado Bulldog, both with a driving beat, the latter at a double-time pace, leave the audience wanting more. They will soon get more, much more!
Now pay attention, because this is where the show gets a little intertwined and hard to follow. After a brief intermission, a distorted Mr. Big returns to the stage. Sheehan and Martin are joined by Kotzen and Bennett for three Kotzen era Mr. Big numbers, Shine, Dancin’ With My Devils and Superfantastic. The second of which had never been performed live, and the bookends, not since 2002. Next up is The Knack bassist, Prescott Niles and his three kids on lead and rhythm guitar and drums. They play a great version of My Sharona, with Starr handling vocals. This pace continues with a newly “unformed” supergroup consisting of Chuck Wright on bass, Gilby Clark and Dave Amato on guitar, Matt Sorum on drums and Keith St. John on vocals. This quintet plays Montrose’s Rock Candy and Whole Lotta Love. Torpey had a stint as drummer at one time or another in The Knack, Montrose as well as Robert Plant.
St. John remains on stage as Sheehan makes his return, accompanied by Neil Giraldo, guitar and Myron Grombacher, drums of Pat Benatar fame. This troupe renders a version of Helter Skelter the classic Beatles hit which was covered by Benatar in the early 1980’s and the Hendrix classic Fire. I’ll pause here for a moment so you can catch up, because there’s more. Next comes a pair of Beatles tunes. A fitting twosome for the occasion of In My Life and Eight Days a Week, performed acoustically by Brett Tuggle, Kelly Keagy, Ricky Phillips and Amato. The last mini-group of the evening is Sheehan and Gilbert, joined by Jeff Scott Soto on vocals and Greg Bisonnette on drums. This quartet plays a few Van Halen tunes, starting with And the Cradle Will Rock. A brief snippet of Eruption transitions into the guitar intro for their last tune, Women in Love. Just when you thought it could not get any more epic, every single performer of the evening returns to the stage as they collectively play and sing along to the Mr. Big hit, To Be With You.
The tribute portion of the evening was filled with not just musicians, but people. People who had shared experiences with Torpey. People who considered Torpey a friend and even family. Stories were shared and laughs were had. This was after all a celebration. At the end of the evening’s events, Sheehan remarked, “This is the happiest I’ve ever been to see so many wonderful people, at an event I never, ever wanted to happen.” In the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, there is a line that is spoken and later written to George Bailey. “No man is a failure who has friends.” Judging by the outpouring of love from the audience and the sheer number of friends who came to play and pay homage to Pat Torpey, it is evident that his life was indeed a success.
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CLICK HERE to view more pics of MR. BIG. from the show.
CLICK HERE to view more pics of RICHIE KOTZEN from the show.