When you hear that an album like Pornograffitti (which defined one of our teenage summers) turned 25 last year, don’t it make you feel old? Maybe you haven’t played it in a while. (If you haven’t, here is a refresher course.) It was one of those discs that had appealing songs from start to finish, each different from the last. All 13 songs (14 if you include the solo “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee”) are reproduced in sequence on this new live CD release, fresh from a hot show in Vegas in 2015. You can buy a blu-ray or DVD of the concert too, but CD collectors will want to spring for this Japanese double set. On a second disc you get “Play With Me” (given more exposure in the movie Air Guitar Nation) and “Cupid’s Dead”, normally exclusive to the video version. The total package is close to an hour and a half of some of Extreme’s best songs. The Japanese printing also has its own cover art, though no other exclusives.
The familiar taped intro of rain and piano inaugurates the “funked-up fairy tail” that is Pornograffitti. “Trying so hard to keep up with the Joneses!” begins Gary and and the Vegas crowd knows all the words. With Nuno Bettencourt and Pat Badger helping out, the Extreme vocals are nice and thick live. The sound is beefy goodness, wound up in electric guitar strings. Kicking it on drums, Kevin Figueiredo keeps things pretty close to the way original drummer Paul Geary did it. “Decadence Dance” is sincerely good nostalgia.
Following the vague storyline of the original album, “Lil’ Jack Horny” shows up amidst shimmery guitar harmonics and a funky lil’ riff. The horn parts (tapes?) jack up the funky little guitar number, which carries over to “When I’m President”. Nuno squeaks and squonks while Gary waxes poetic. “So go ask Alice, ah you know what he said? What did he say — remember, I wanna be elected?” Maybe one day Gary, because it is indeed true: just about anyone can be president! Cherone promises that things’ll be different. You can even be in his cabinet!
The funk peaks (obviously) on “Get the Funk Out” which remains as silly and fun as it was 15 years ago. (Listen for a little bit of a lyrical modernization from Nuno!) It’s pure live smoke only slowed down by the obligatory audience participation section. This appropriately segues into “More Than Words”, which is slightly more than a singalong. Stripped naked of the loud guitars, Nuno and Gary can still harmonize as clean and perfect as they always have.
“Money” resumes the rock, as Gary bemoans the modern worship of the almighty dollar. Nimbly killing it on both guitar and harmonies, Nuno Bettencourt is a super hero. He does it again on “It (‘s a Monster)”, a stock album track that goes from point A to point B at top speed. Some real gems start showing up a in steady string from there. “Pornograffitti” possesses some serious funk metal riffage and guitar tricks, performed at an unbelievable level of rock supremacy. Then it is time for the slow jazz lounge croon “When I First Kissed You”. Piano flourishes and Figueiredo on brushes lend it a really pretty dusky sound.
“And now back to our regularly scheduled program!” shouts Gary as Extreme once again puts on their rock and roll shoes. It’s time for “Suzi (Wants Her All Day What?)”, another funky rock combo. Nuno plays some of the fastest licks ever attempted, but that is mere warm-up, for next is “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee”, the legendary guitar instrumental that re-defined the guitar instrumental for a short while. There is no time to recover because it’s straight into “He-Man Woman Hater”. This Van Halen-like blast contains some of Nuno’s finest fret abuse.
Pornograffitti was also a little different, and one aspect of that is that it ended with two ballads. Historically that has been demonstrated as a risky way to end an album, but Extreme pulled it off by using two that were different from any of the others on the CD. “Song For Love” was a big pompous Queen-like anthem, and you can all but see the lighters and cell phones waving in the air. “Hole Hearted” was the memorable acoustic closing number, great for campfires and rock concerts alike. Live is just as solid as the studio original.
Onto to the Japanese bonus CD with its two bonus tracks. “Play With Me” has always been a bit of a novelty, but notable for its sheer velocity and Mozart-a-go-go guitar dexterity. Few players have chops like these. “Cupid’s Dead” is a set highlight – heavy, funky and progressive at times. Extreme III deserves as much praise as Extreme II: Pornograffitti so it is quite pleasing to have this adventurous track close.
Bravo to Extreme for making this trip back in time a real treat.