Dan Reed Network
19th October 2013 – Diamond Rock Club, Ahoghill
Dan Reed is the reason why I first visited the Diamond Rock Club a couple of years back. A fan of Reed (with Dan Reed Network) since his heyday of the late 80’s/early 90’s, I kept seeing his name on posters and in the papers advertising his seemingly annual appearances at the D.R.C. and eventually I had to go and see for myself. I was not disappointed. In fact, I was immediately enthralled by the venue and by Reed himself. The venue is welcoming, friendly, devoid of cliques and faux-coolness that can poison other venues. Reed was humble, enthusiastic and bloody brilliant as he played reworked acoustic versions of his old ‘Network’ material and a selection of his solo material. It was clear that Reed loved playing at the D.R.C. as much as the fans loved him playing there. Quite often it was his only Irish date on a European Tour. To the uninitiated it may seem that Reed could do better, but he thinks the opposite – that playing the D.R.C. is exactly his idea of fun which in turn makes it fun to watch.
In that short space of time since that first venture to the Diamond I have already seen some remarkable performances from established names (and some truly barnstorming performances from our best local Rock acts) as venue organiser, Derwin McFarland, goes above and beyond to somehow attract these acts to a small village just outside Ballymena (some would say just outside civilisation). And once they play there it seems the acts themselves are hooked and return again and again spreading the word to other artists. Some of the artists (e.g. Kip Winger, Dan Baird, Brian Robertson, Tigertailz, Ricky Warwick) maybe even Dan Reed himself, may seem like at best ‘hasbeens’ or at worst ‘nobodies’ to a lot of music lovers who only look to the bright new thing or only care about bands that are still in the spotlight and I don’t blame them for that. I am no different for, fan that I was of Dan Reed Network, as soon as Grunge came along and blew my mind, I too lost touch with most of the bands I loved pre-Grunge. I stopped reading about them, I stopped buying their new material, I ceased to care what had happened to them. Without wishing to sound over-dramatic, what the Diamond Rock Club has done for me is to remind me that good music is good music irrespective of time, fashion and perceived levels of success, while at the same time showcasing great new local music and showing me that there is great music all around us if we look for it instead of waiting for it to be spoonfed to us by the corporate music machine.
The hors d’oeuvres before tonight’s main course comes in the form of an acoustic set from Dan himself and Brion (James), the Network’s lead guitarist. Most of the crowd were already familiar with how good a Dan Reed acoustic set is from his previous visits to the D.R.C. but the addition of Brion made it something special and highlighted that James is a fabulous performer and writer in his own right. He sang a good percentage of the songs which included one of his own ‘Who’s Gonna Save The World’. Highlights of the set were the Mungo Jerry tinged ‘Chill Out’ (from the Network’s ‘The Heat’ album) and Reed’s solo masterpiece ‘Coming Up For Air’. The crowd which at the start of the set were chanting Dan ‘F**kin’ Reed ended it chanting Brion ‘F**kin’ James and it was clear the affable guitarist was stunned by the adulation and realised that a special night awaited. The set closes with ‘Closer’ and Reed says ‘We’ll be back in 20 minutes’, leaving us with a few minutes to catch our breath and some liquid refreshment in preparation for what we already knew was going to be a special night.
Your first thoughts before any performance by a band you love is ‘what will they start the show with?’ I had my own mind and my own preference and don’t you just love it when your thoughts are borne out by reality? As the houselights go down and a siren begins to wail I know what is coming – ‘Cruise Together’ (see Youtube clip). The low thrumming of the keyboard sample echos the thrumming of building excitement among the crowd. Then Brion James’ searing guitar riff cuts through and the crowd are at fever pitch, ready for those fabulous opening lines. Reed does not leave us hanging too long. ‘Somewhere in the world tonight, someone’s laughing, someone’s just cried. We don’t care, you and I, we’ll cruise together’. It hits the nail on the head. At this moment none of us care what is happening beyond these four walls. We are cruising together with Dan as our leader, singing every word with him. Next they hit us with ‘the big guitar stuff’ and another one of my favourites – ‘Forgot To Make Her Mine’, a song that encapsulates the band perfectly. It’s the perfect blend of Funk and Rock. The Funk provides the underbelly of the song, the deep bass and catchy keyboards, before the big rock guitar Dan promised us kicks in and we’re singing again…‘I remembered her favourite jeans, I’d wear them all the time. I remembered to make good love but I, ah, you know what I forgot’.
After the break-neck rap of ‘World Has A Heart Too’ (yes, RAP at a Rock Club) comes a razor-sharp version of ‘Under My Skin’ and the ferocious ‘Baby Now I’, band and crowd alike can take a little breather as the pace goes down a notch with ‘Rainbow Child’. ‘Rainbow Child’ is probably D.R.N.’s most famous song, certainly its biggest hit and it’s the song every one of us have come to hear. It doesn’t disappoint and once again the crowd play their part with flawless ‘backing vocals’. ‘Come Back Baby’ comes next and features a fantastic solo from James with Reed ‘vocalising’ along with him almost jazz style. The hard-rocking-but-still-funky ‘Make It Easy’ is one of my favourite D.R.N. tunes and I find myself going just a little bit daft. Thank God, I am not alone as the rest of the crowd are doing likewise.
While the band played a lot of my favourites, and a lot of the obvious songs from their back catalogue, there were a couple of tunes they played that weren’t in the setlist in my head pre-gig. So when ‘Baby Don’t Fade’ began I was prepared for it to be well played but not prepared for how well the band turned it into a real epic that had us all entranced. Amidst it all comes a fantastic bass solo (yes, really) from Melvin Brannon II who amazed us not just with his bass playing (think Hendrix with a bass) but his ability not to melt with what appeared to be a tea-cosy on his head (I needed hosed down when I got home and I was only watching). Fantastic showmanship.
Reed takes the opportunity to dedicate the mega-ballad that is ‘Stronger Than Steel’ to Derwin and his wife Fiona, praising their hospitality and what they have done by creating the D.R.C. bringing it home once again how special this venue is. After 5 minutes of lovey-dovey ballad the band kick into ‘Love Don’t Work That Way’ – another fine example of how this band fuse Funk and Rock to perfection without compromising on either. An even better example is ‘Tiger In a Dress’ which clearly was on everyone else’s setlist/wishlist. There’s time for one more ballad in ‘Taming The Wild Night’ before the excellent ‘Ritual’ closes the show and crosses another song off my personal wishlist.
Of course, this was never going to be the end of the show and after a few minutes of the crowd baying for more, the guys were back onstage ready to give us some more. What we got was a fiery version of ‘Get To You’ followed by a touching version of the acoustic masterpiece that is ‘Long Way To Go’. The show-closer was a truly rocking ‘Seven Sister’s Road’ and all-too-soon it is over. I had to go so unfortunately missed out on one of the other special features of the D.R.C. If you go to the D.R.C. you don’t just get to watch great bands you quite often get to meet them, chat with them, get your picture taken with them etc as well. It once again set this place out on its own in terms of giving its patrons a really special night out.
There was only one thing that stopped this from being the perfect gig for me and that is that the band wasn’t able to play another hour or so and play ‘Blame It On The Moon’, ‘Mix It Up’, ‘I’m Lonely, Please Stay’, ‘Doin’ The Love Thing’ etc etc. Maybe next time? Here’s hoping.
Mr McFarland, make it so.