Extreme’s timing was both excellent and terrible. The Boston band’s breakthrough album came the year before Nirvana wiped the slate clean of pop-metal, and its follow-up arrived the year after. It’s easy to lament Extreme’s interrupted momentum, but Wednesday’s House Of Blues show was about celebrating the moment the group managed to grab while the winds were in its favor, as it performed “Extreme II: Pornograffitti” in its entirety to commemorate the album’s 25th anniversary.
“We had to go back and learn it,” joked guitarist Nuno Bettencourt. “We are a tribute band now.”
And a fine one, too. The band members played the album with the energy and conviction of their 25-years-younger selves. Taking the stage half an hour late because of a fire alarm that required that the audience be completely evacuated and then re-admitted, Extreme burst out of the gate with the stomping, itchy “Decadence Dance” and didn’t come up for air until Bettencourt’s electric guitar was swapped out for an acoustic four songs later, for “More Than Words.”
Bettencourt offered constant reminders that he was one of the more distinctive guitarists to have been washed away by the alternative explosion of the ’90s. His rhythm playing was tight and intricate, while his leads were ragingly, almost defiantly melodic. Even the preposterously frenzied “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee” solo that prefaced “He-Man Woman Hater” had a clear line weaving through the cascading barrage of notes, as did the song’s fluttering, percussive riff.
As with many full-album concerts, some duds were unavoidable. The band claimed that it had never played “When I First Kissed You” on tour, and it was easy to see why. With Bettencourt on piano, bassist Pat Badger on upright electric bass, and singer Gary Cherone on fedora, it was a snoozer, not because it was a blue-light jazz-standard pastiche but because it was a subpar blue-light jazz-standard pastiche. “When I’m President” and “Get the Funk Out” were lumbering ’80s-metal takes on rap and funk. And the ham-handedness of Extreme’s stabs at social satire has only increased in the last quarter century.
But that hardly mattered when attached to the complex, fretboard-spanning riff of “Pornograffitti,” the arena rush of “Suzi (Wants Her All Day What?),” or the arm-waving Queenisms of “Song for Love.” The encore visited other corners of Extreme’s catalog, from the metallic chicken-pickin’ of “Take Us Alive” to the proggy gravity and scope of “Am I Ever Gonna Change.” Extreme may not have been able to capitalize on its success, but at least it made good on it.
More music coverage: