It’s the fifteenth of March and, for England, unseasonably warm and free of rain. It’s the perfect weather, because if ever there was a band destined to dispel the gloom (and lord knows we’ve seen enough of that of late), it’s The Dan Reed Network. Hot off the back of brilliant album ‘fight another day’, The Dan Reed Network have been pounding the road in Europe and latterly the UK, bringing their unique blend of soul, funk and rock to an ever-expanding audience that, whilst formed around a core of long-time fans, seems to be taking in younger members in vast quantities.
Before we get to Dan Reed, however, we have a set from rising AOR stars Vega who match the melodic vocals of singer Nick Workman to the strident yet controlled guitar work of axe-slinger Marcus Thurston. It’s a good natured set from a band clearly delighted to be playing the presence of their heroes and they get the whole crowd singing along thanks to their knack for weaving catchy hooks into fabric of their stadium-sized songs. Tracks like ‘What the hell’ get the audience buzzing nicely, but the undisputed highlight is the massive singalong finale, ‘saving grace’, which is delivered with power and precision and marks an emotional end to the tour. An oft-underrated genre, AOR still has the power to turn up gems every once in a while and there’s no mistaking the pleasure Vega take in performing or their natural affinity for crafting huge choruses that remain long in the memory.
With the crowd already steaming, it’s on to The Dan Reed Network. On record the band’s new material is sublime and punchy, capturing a spirit of optimism so often absent from rock music and, with its cutting-edge production and excellent musicianship; it renders its message of hope in the face of adversity in a thoroughly entertaining manner. Live, however, is a whole different ball game. Where the record at least maintains a semblance of calm, on stage the band are a relentless motion-blur as they tear into a mix of classic cuts and blazing new anthems with a youthful zeal that is joyful to witness.
Kicking off with a sparkling rendition of ‘get to you’, the synth-heavy funk workout from the band’s debut album now bought screaming into the new millennium, the band really turn up the heat, guitarist Brion James taking every opportunity to let his beautiful, P-90 loaded Les Paul growl. With the crowd ecstatic, the band waste no time launching into ‘divided’, the already-classic opening number of ‘fight another day’, demonstrating that the band have lost none of their gift for crafting huge, hooky, life-affirming songs that set the spirits soaring.
From there on in the band weave a remarkable musical path, giving the audience plenty of opportunities to choose the next song (often with unpredictable results), whilst making sure that the core of the set is aired. It’s a brave move from a veteran band unafraid to take risks and favouring sheer bravura entertainment over the predictable proficiency that comes with playing the same set every night. Highlights include ‘Ritual’ (featuring a charming guest shot from Vega frontman Nick Workman), the exquisitely soulful ‘Who’s going to save the world’ (sung by Brion), a zany medley covering everything from Metallica to Kiss to Frankie goes to Hollywood and, saving the best for very-nearly-last, a glorious ‘champion’. Ever the gracious host, Dan also gives keyboardist (and producer) Rob Daiker a turn in the spotlight to play one of his tracks, the bluesy ‘all for a kiss’, which starts solo and builds to a remarkable climax as the band return to the stage for its conclusion. It says much for the communal vibe on stage that there is no grandstanding, and it is clear that each of the members of the band love and respect the others’ talents, simply happy to have the opportunity to play these songs in each other’s company.
If there is a flaw to the night’s proceedings, it is simply that the stage is too small to confine the effervescent Dan who shakes, rattles, rolls and throws poses from the very start of the show right through to its emotional end (with ‘Tiger in a dress’). Often bouncing (literally) off the walls, Dan is an irrepressible frontman and his engagement with the audience is second to none. Whether it’s chatting about the tour, taking us on a potted history of the band or simply driving his band nuts with random tempo changes, Dan is a consummate performer who somehow makes the packed venue feel as intimate as if he was playing in your back room and his light touch results in a sea of smiles from the front of the venue to the back.
The Dan Reed Network are one of those rare bands that leaves you with a soppy grin plastered over your face and at least a fleeting feeling that the world could be so much more if everybody approached life with the same spirit of unity. It is that shared spirit of unity that spreads from stage to auditorium, engulfing the audience and making the whole concert one of the most energetically positive and life-affirming shows you’re ever likely to see. Remarkably energetic, musically brilliant and simply great fun, The Dan Reed Network have cemented and substantially enhanced their long-standing reputation and the next album cannot arrive soon enough.