I set out on a crisp November evening to catch the Dan Reed Network on the London leg of a fourteen-date UK tour in support of their new album, Origins, at the intimate club 229. The night is hosted by radio station Planet Rock, (those tongue-out champions of chunk, churn and chug) and thus the black t-shirted rock credentials of the evening’s opening acts are beyond question. Hollowstar, from Cambridgeshire, are satisfyingly old-school bluesy hard rockers who sell out of CDs while they’re still onstage and Glasgow’s muscular Mason Hill - who also swiftly win the crowd - deliver a heaviness of the type I haven’t witnessed in years. It’s fantastic to see these hungry young guns perform with so much passion and pride and both acts give tonight absolutely everything they’ve got, which is plenty.
Being low-ceilinged and shoebox-shaped, the 229 is not, I think, the best suited for a cajones-heavy rock sound. There’s one of two things happening: either the clarity is being lost by everything being punishingly loud, or the simple lack of youth in my bones means I have exceeded the upper age limit at which it is possible to rock in anything other than mild discomfort.
Dan Reed and co. are now in their fifth year since their reformation and Origins serves as a document of that period, mixing up new tracks with updated recordings of fan favourites. For these classic tracks, DRN hosted a series of live studio recording sessions with fans invited to attend and participate; cleverly giving the devoted a sense of ownership as opposed to a sense that they are stumping up new cash for old cuts. So, while tonight’s gig is ostensibly an album launch, it’s also a greatest hits party.
The set opens with ‘Rock You All Night Long’ and is studded from end to end with Network classics: ‘Rainbow Child’, ‘Baby Now I’, ‘Get To You’; all present, all more than correct. Dan Reed’s Tele-Savalas-does-tai-chi stage persona is irresistibly endearing and he and his accomplished bandmates simply nail everything while simultaneously having a blast. We have shuffled forward for the headliners and are enjoying (if that’s the word I want) even more volume. Early on we are treated to an impromptu solo acapella version of the jazz standard ‘All Of Me’ while issues with guitarist Brion James’s wireless setup are quickly remedied by the use of an historic relic known as ‘cable’. Normal deafening service is resumed for ‘Under My Skin’, after which the suggestion from backstage that bassist Melvin Brannon needs to turn down is comprehensively laughed into touch. But, by crikey… It. Is. Loud. And I am old.
The band are in no hurry and keyboard player (and, it transpires, guitarist too) Rob Daiker is permitted to sing an original of his own. Guitarist Brion James likewise fronts ‘Save The World’ which, alongside the excellent ‘Divided’, showcases the strength of 2016’s Fight Another Day album. Most of the night’s musical indulgence is contained in one place with ‘Baby Now I’ segueing neatly into a bass solo via Kiss’s ‘I Was Made For Loving You’ and morphing into Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Relax’; some classic disco and ‘Enter Sandman’ before finally coming full circle.
The set closes with ‘Ritual’, after which we are treated to a four-part harmony acapella version of ‘Long Way To Go’. It’s midnight but the last two and half hours have been so much fun that no-one seems to have noticed the hour. The band promise to come out and party with us until closing time (3 a.m.) but alas - as I think I may have mentioned - I am old. My body will not countenance anything at this hour beyond a cup of cocoa and my bedsocks. I go home with ringing ears and a heart that is ageing but now full of joy. I sleep well.
Review by Rich Barnard.