Many bands pay lip service to their fans but Dan Reed Network have something of a unique communion with theirs, to the extent that their new album ‘Origins’ was recorded across the world, mixing old and new songs in front of a live studio audience. At this London leg of an extensive UK tour the same generosity of spirit was in evidence al evening, from the moment Dan himself introduced both a Planet Rock DJ and the first of the two young opening bands on the show.
In their short period of time on the scene I have heard good things about Hollowstar and the Cambridgeshire-based rockers delivered a short but very promising set. Bassist and frontman Joe Bonson was a charismatic looking figure who was also bold enough to talk up front about mental health issues.
His voice was strong, bluesy and soulful without being an obvious clone – and the two guitarists, including Phil Haines, with some great foot on the monitor poses laid down an enjoyable groove on tracks like ‘Lay Down’ and ‘Feel The Burn’. They also played a new single in ‘Let You Down’ and closed with probably their catchiest number in ‘All I Gotta Say’ with its ‘Bye Bye Baby’ refrain.
Despite their impossibly youthful looks, Scots Mason Hill have built up more experience over the last couple of years and have looked more assured each time I have seen them. They took a bold step opening with ‘No Regret’, as it begins with a lengthy solo slot from singer Scott Taylor before bursting into probably their darkest riffs. Yet while still intense, the likes of ‘Survive’, ‘Hold On’ and ‘Against The Wall’ were melodic and well constructed, striking the all and the right balance between accessibility and complexity.
By this stage I was thinking that, rather like a heavier version of Stone Broken, that they were carrying off to a tee that modern American rock sound akin to Alter Bridge, Black Stone Cherry and early Shinedown, and have the potential to graduate to arenas on either side of the Atlantic with the right breaks on publicityand suitable support slots.
Their crowning glory though was ‘Where I Belong’, an intense, multi-paced epic with a superb solo from James Bird. The rest of the set threatened to be an anti climax but ‘Now You See Me’, while more direct, lost nothing in comparison, while a cover of ‘Cochise’ was a timely reminder of the influence of that Audioslave debut on a whole generation of bands.
This was a similar set to the one I’d seen at Rockingham a few weeks ago, but I enjoyed it so much more: partly this was knowing what to expect, partly the effects of the white wine from the Turkish restaurant over the road beforehand, but chiefly it was that the songs this time were brought to life by a spot on sound. Indeed, this venue located unpromisingly in the basement of a student hall complex was winning loads of complimentary remarks as to the good facilities as well as its high stage.
The main attraction took the stage about 9:40, Dan Reed Network opening perhaps a little surprisingly with ‘Rock You All Night Long’ before ‘Divided’, from their comeback album ‘Fight Another Day’ but a song which has proven to have staying power. However it was ‘Forgot To Make Her Mine’- which seemed to have ended then ground into life again – ‘Under My Skin’, with a snatch of ‘Miss You’, and ‘Doing The Love Thing’ that saw the band first get into that loose-limbed funky groove that is so hypnotic, especially in the live setting.
Dan’s own beaming enthusiasm contributed to the sense of fun, while his stage moves are unique and far from the rock star stereotype. ‘Resurrect’ is almost their quintessential song and had a few people starting to jump up and down, warming the atmosphere up nicely for ‘Rainbow Child’, with a mass shouting of the ‘She don’t talk much- she don’t have to’ line.
There then followed a change of pace as keyboardist Rob Daiker – the only non-original Network member – came forward to play guitar and sing a very decent song of his own in ‘All For A Kiss’’ followed by, surprisingly, the sole new number aired from ‘Origins’ in ‘One Last Time’ which grew on me enjoyably, yet was not funky in the slightest.
However as they returned to the greatest hits path ‘Get To You’ more than compensated and was followed by ‘Tiger In A Dress’ as the atmosphere came nicely to the boil. On the ballad ’Stronger Than Steel’ Brion James, impressively fluent in his playing throughout, delivered a sweet solo before Dan ushered him forward to the central mike to sing the reggae-flavoured ‘Save The World’.
At this stage Dan mentioned that with a late curfew at the venue they had more time to play with, and they even slipped in ‘Cruise Together’ in response to a fan request, but this was the stage of the gig where, freed of time constraints, the jamming became a little too drawn out for my liking, notably on ‘Baby Now I’ which started off a storm but diverted into a medley including ‘I Was Made For Loving You’, ‘ Lets Groove’, ‘Relax’ and ‘Enter Sandman’, proving if nothing else that ‘Mixing It Up’ was always their motto as well as a song title.
There was no encore as such, with the band merely keeping on playing and after some profuse and graceful thanks from Dan and bassist Melvin Brannon rapping his way through ‘The World Has A Heart Too’, a crowd slightly thinned out at this late hour was all moving and grooving to the old dance floor filler ‘Ritual’ and shouting out the ‘whoah-hey-I’ chant. However there was still one final coda to come – as the band took their bow, they collectively gave an acapalla version of one of Dan’s most beautiful songs in ‘Long Way To Go’.
Three bands at the top of their game, an excellent venue, and an infectious groove and sense of fun from the headliners- it’s no wonder most people as they left were hailing one of their most enjoyable gigs of the year.
Review by Andy Nathan
Photos by Simon Green, Trudi Knight and Andy Nathan
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