Extreme have not had a quiet 2023. In June they released Six, their first studio album in 15 years. And, since August, they’ve played 50-something shows on a world tour that’s already taken them as far afield as Japan and Australia. So, at their final gig of the year, the band have every right to be tired. They’re not. At all.
If anything, the men on stage at O2 Forum Kentish Town are even more into it than usual, fully embracing Nuno Bettencourt‘s description of tonight as the end of tour party. At the end of the night all four members even come out to interact with the crowd some more; while the garrulous guitarist and the tireless singer Gary Cherone come down to the barrier for fist bumps and high fives, Pat Badger throws handfuls of his bass guitar picks into the crowd and Kevin Figueiredo hands out set lists and his drum sticks.
Extreme @ Kentish Town Forum
This is even after a two-hour, curfew-busting show that, despite a few self-deprecating Bettencourt comments about their age, absolutely overflows with energy and engagement. Cherone runs, jumps, crouches, kneels, points, gestures, waves around his microphone stand like a conductor’s baton, climbs up onto a speaker stack, and at one point even slaps himself in the face, all the while belting out demanding, voice-busting songs like Decadence Dance and #Rebel or tongue-twisters Play With Me and Cupid’s Dead.
Bettencourt perhaps doesn’t spend as much time in a yoga studio as the seemingly elasticated singer, but doesn’t show any signs of the serious knee injury he suffered earlier this year as he bounds across the stage, pulls off guitar hero poses (some involving his middle finger), sings, and plays one inconceivable solo after another. (Even when watched in close-up through one of the many phone screens in the crowd, what his fingers do during the instrumental Flight Of The Wounded Bumblebee is inexplicable.)
Badger’s less flashy but no less integral to the sound or performance — from the groove of It (‘s A Monster) and signature solo on Get The Funk Out to the harmony vocals that (with Bettencourt’s) lift epics like Rest In Peace, Song For Love, and Am I Ever Gonna Change. And while Figueiredo is less visible, the drummer’s certainly no wallflower. New all-out rockers like Thicker Than Blood and Banshee are the epitome of hard-hitting. Cupid’s Dead would be DOA without him. And the stripped back mini-set of Other Side Of The Rainbow and Hole Hearted allows for subtlety on a smaller kit at the front of the stage, while also bringing him closer to the rest of the band’s antics.
Extreme @ Kentish Town Forum
Despite the musical complexity and physical demands of these songs, the members of Extreme are clearly feeling playful. Whether it’s Cherone sharing his microphone with Bettencourt and/or Badger, the bassist reaching over to adjust the guitarist’s necklace or play his 4N Washburn, the joyous snippets of We Will Rock You and Fat Bottomed Girls, Bettencourt joking how he’s asked Vernon Reed of thrilling support band Living Colour not to upstage him, or the singer being punched in the chest while holding the long note at the end of Take Us Alive, their sense of fun is infectious. Just look at the two 50-something men in the audience, clearly friends for decades, giddily reliving their teenage years as they play Bill & Ted-style air guitar every single time Bettencourt unleashes a solo. Or the two actual teenagers, headbanging and singing along as loudly to 1989’s Play With Me as this year’s Rise — while simultaneously posting clips to social media.
Unsurprisingly the strongest moment of connection between audience and band comes during More Than Words. Introduced by Bettencourt with a throwaway “This one’s all you”, it’s performed unplugged a la Mercury and May‘s Love Of My Life and turns into a mass singalong so loud and uplifting that, even after all these years, the singer and guitarist can’t hide their delight. Look around the sold out O2 Forum Kentish Town and it’s clear 2300 other people feel exactly the same.
Live review of Extreme live at O2 Forum Kentish Town on 19th December 2023 by Nils van der Linden. Photos by Catherine Beltramini Photography.