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February 8, 2024

Review: Dynamic guitar work shows Extreme is ‘More Than Words’ in Pittsburgh concert


Extreme may be best known for their two radio hits from the 1990s, “More Than Words” and “Hole Hearted.”

But the hard rock band out of Boston showed they’re much, much more than power ballads in an electric performance as part of their Thicker Than Blood tour Tuesday night at the Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall. In a set topping more than two hours, Extreme covered their entire career, with an emphasis on old and new music alike.

Guitarist Nuno Bettencourt led the way, unleashing dynamic solos on just about every song. The wiry 57-year-old, with sleeveless shirts, bouncing hair and a “$7,000 hat,” showcased a variety of styles. From the funky “Cupid’s Dead” to the rollicking “Take Us Alive” to the classical romp through “Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee,” Bettencourt showed off his versatility and finger dexterity all night.

Extreme started in 1985 with Bettencourt, singer Gary Cherone and bassist Pat Badger. Their current lineup was rounded out by “new” drummer Kevin Figueiredo, who joined in 2007.

The band’s 1989 self-titled debut album skewed toward hair metal, while 1990’s “Extreme II: Pornograffiti” covered other ground, with more funk and the aforementioned ballads. Their concept album, “III Sides to Every Story” in 1992 hit as grunge was exploding, followed by 1995’s “Waiting for the Punchline.

The band broke up amicably in 1996, with Cherone later fronting Van Halen from 1996-99. Extreme played some shows from 2004-06 but officially reformed for good in 2007, with their fifth album, “Saudades de Rock,” released in 2008.

It took another 15 years before their long-gestating album, “Six,” came out on June 9, 2023. Of the nearly two dozen songs played Tuesday night, six — what a coincidence? — came from “Six.” Songs like “#Rebel” and “Banshee” showed off their modern rock chops, while “Other Side of the Rainbow” showed they still have the potential for radio-friendly hits in them.

“One thing’s for sure, I know Extreme music takes, like, between 31 and 32 years to do an album. We got to get our (crap) together,” Bettencourt told the crowd Tuesday, drawing laughs. “But, to be honest with you, it’s not for lack of trying. … At 17, 18, we said we never wanted to release anything ever that doesn’t mean something to us, before we show it to you. We kind of do that selfishly. … We have to love the record from top to bottom to be able to share it with you all, because it’s a big deal for us. It’s here after we’re gone.

The lithe and limber Cherone, 62, rarely stopped moving, as he shimmied across the stage while belting out their hits or shooting off the rapid-fire lyrics on “Play With Me.” A majority of the songs also featured Bettencourt’s voice complementing Cherone’s with Badger joining in on the tight vocal harmonies as well.

And about those power ballads? The whole band moved to the front of the stage for “Other Side of the Rainbow” followed right by “Hole Hearted,” which had the crowd clapping along. Later in the set, Bettencourt encouraged the crowd to sit down just as he did, after taking center stage on a stool with just an acoustic guitar for “Midnight Express” and “Hurricane.” Cherone then rejoined Bettencourt for a crowd-pleasing rendition of “More Than Words.”

Most surprisingly, those hits weren’t saved for the encore. In a sign they weren’t resting on their laurels, Extreme instead used a pair of new songs to end the night. “Small Town Beautiful” — intertwined with 1990s “Song For Love” — softened the mood, before shifting gears with the stomper “Rise” to end the night.

Living Colour, the pioneering Black rock group, opened the show with a 40-minute set that felt like it warranted a longer slot.

Their set only dipped into their first three albums, with two exceptions. First came a cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” dedicated to the memory of country singer Toby Keith, who died Monday. And bassist Doug Wimbish kicked off a medley of early hip-hop songs — from Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and the Sugarhill Gang — that he played on as a session musician for Sugar Hill Records.

Decked out in a flashy silver suit and shades, singer Corey Glover shared a memory of playing the old Syria Mosque with Fishbone.

Their finale, and biggest hit, “Cult of Personality,” is just as relevant — and maybe even more — in today’s political landscape as it was in 1988. Glover walked through the crowd and sang most of the song from the balcony while, on stage, guitarist Vernon Reid roared with the iconic riff before his frenzied, fast-paced solo.