Tonight was about putting right a decades-old wrong; way back in 1990 this band (then riding high with their ‘Slam’ album) called at Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre and… I passed on the gig! At that time the Network’s brand of funk-infused rock did not appeal to me at all, preferring as I did a heavier style of Metal I couldn’t see what it was about this band that appealed to rock fans. The gig of course was a roaring success despite my objections (!) as just about every other rock fan in the local area turned out. Not long after that, mainman Dan Reed inexplicably decided to cut off ALL his long dark hair, and after one more album (‘The Heat’, 1991) the group disappeared off the face of the earth as the grunge revolution took hold.
I’d heard all about that show in Liverpool from friends who were there, and they told me that live, the band were far rockier than their records suggested. I remained unconvinced, but in 2010 after many years away from the stage, Dan Reed made a comeback. A one-off reunion of the Network led to further performances, and he also embarked on an acoustic tour alongside Tyketto singer Danny Vaughn. I saw that show in Liverpool, and although I knew all about Vaughn, it was Reed who really made an impression. Engaging, amusing and still in possession of a fine voice, he finally won me over. I’d planned to see him with the Network at last a couple of years ago, but a date clash put paid to that idea. This time around, I took the opportunity to see the band (with a new album ‘Fight Another Day’, their first in 25 years) at long last.
No sooner had I entered the main hall at Chester’s Live Rooms than support Vega hit the stage. Their brand of 80s-style melodic hard rock was well delivered, and they looked and sounded exactly as I’d envisaged (singer with nicely-coiffured blonde hair, nimble-fingered guitarist with a spiky cropped hairdo and plenty of tattoos, and a big bloke on drums who had ‘Steve Harris Syndrome’ – mouthing the words to each song along with the singer!) but for whatever reason, they just didn’t excite me at all. Plenty around me were more enthusiastic, as frontman Nick Workman encouraged (and got) plenty of hands clapping and chants back from the crowd. One thing I will praise him for is his multi-tasking abilities; he called for a towel to deal with a spilt liquid on the stage (beer, presumably!) and when it eventually arrived, he threw the towel to the floor and continued to sing while mopping up the spill with his right foot! A good live band that I’d watch again if they were to appear on another bill like this, but not one I’d travel far to see.
When Dan Reed and his Network did come on stage, things got off to a bit of a false start as the frontman couldn’t hear himself from the centre monitor. Several minutes passed as the techs worked to sort that out, meanwhile Dan cracked a few gags with the audience – mainly at the expense of his country’s current President! When they got that sorted, the set opened with ‘Resurrect’ from the band’s self-titled debut album (now 30 years old!)
It soon became clear that they were not working to a pre-arranged setlist, as the frontman asked the audience what they wanted next – resulting in a cacophy of shouts! Several requests were granted on the spot, meaning fan favourite ‘Rainbow Child’ came early on. Before they played it, Reed joked that somebody always objects whenever they go to play it and demonstrated by declaring: “F**k no!” in the style of a dissenting fan! ‘Baby Now I’ became a jam with snippets of other songs chucked in, that even included an excerpt of ‘Enter Sandman’! Some material from the recent album did get an airing but most were there for the old favourites; towards the end they delivered ‘Ritual’ and ‘Tiger In A Dress’ but as I recall, they didn’t play ‘Get To You’ or ‘Come Back Baby’. Not only did they take audience requests but even debated amongst themselves what to play – an amusing moment between drummer Dan Pred and bassist Melvin Brannon Jr resulting in their choices being put to the audience (the bassist got his way!)
Midway through the set, the band gave up the stage for their keyboardist Rob Daiker; leaving him to perform a song of his own from a solo CD he had available at the stand. Not many frontmen would do something like that, as Daiker came out from behind his keyboards, picking up a guitar to play his song – solo at first, then accompanied by guitarist Brion James and eventually, the entire band. A remarkable gesture, but the frontman was happy to hand the mic over to both guitarst and bassist as well during this show.
This was a very good performance, made all the more ‘human’ by improvising the set and with a lot of humorous interaction between the players. The younger version of me would have definitely scoffed at the thought that one day I’d go and see this funky outfit but, what did he know anyway! When they come around again (‘we’ll see you next year’ said the frontman as they signed off), be sure to go along.