Most sensible people stay in on a Sunday night. Me I’m out on the town about to catch two bands whose work I’m not overly familiar with. In the case of Vega, I know them only by reputation: melodic/AOR band, four albums in the can with regular support slots up and down the country. While the venue hasn’t filled out yet there are enough punters about who are familiar with their work.
Between the high pitched lead vocals, six-piece band harmonies and keyboards occasionally affecting a rather New Romantics flavour, they come across as a combination of Shy and Duran Duran, but they’ve a meat and potatoes drummer preventing the sound becoming too twee and a lead guitarist who likes to race up and down his fretboard at least once a song.
They also have some solid hookline choruses; ‘Every Little Monster’ for one grabs my attention, ‘What The Hell’ applies Def Leppard dynamics and ‘White Flag’ is played with exuberance. They wear their influences on their torn-jacketed sleeves but they do it with affection and attitude, and the crowd responds warmly.
The audience has filled out by the time they’ve finished their set, and watch patiently as road crew members are replaced by individuals from the Dan Reed Network fiddling anxiously with various on stage settings. I’m only really familiar with their last album yet friends have raved about them; I wonder if there’s a problem on stage and I’ll not get to pass my own judgement tonight. This proves otherwise when they saunter on collectively, though later in the set Dan Reed himself will remark that 18 months back this venue was their first UK gig after reforming and despite experiencing technical problems then, the audience welcomed them. Tonight, the audience has come to party, and to sing and dance, but before that my own jaw must drop open in amazement.
Standing at their microphones and making out like gospel singers for the brief a capella ‘Long Way To Go’ they then proceed towards their respective instruments and launch into the funk rock of ‘Get to You’. Their bowler hat wearing 5 string bass player Melvin Brannon II popping away throughout with guitarist Brion James layering a dirty sound over the top in between peeling out notes, the muscular frame of Reed grooves to the beat, his vocals becoming a rap at which point they all start pogoing up and down before reprising the main song with keyboard player Rob Daiker soloing away as it draws to its conclusion.
My unfamiliarity with their material might mean I don’t know all the numbers, but I like what I hear. ‘Divided’ proves to be much better live than on album, Reed applying melodramatic facial expressions and thespian posing to proceedings, the visuals continuing to capture one’s attention as James’ long yellow dreadlocks flail the air as he solos on his Gold Top Les Paul, and continuing his musical prevalence on ‘Forgot to Make Her Mine’ that combines Stones swagger with a Prince-like persuasion amid some rocked out chords, then taking lead vocals for the metal reggae of ‘Save The World’, it being an appropriate time for Reed to only take harmony vocals as his vest is already dripping with sweat.
Reed’s back at the centre microphone stand (at least for a while, as he’s constantly leaping and dancing around the stage) for ‘The Brave’, his voice not a million miles away from Phil Collins on this calypso funk that develops into a seismic rush of keyboard stabs, and again is preferred to its recorded version.
There’s a lot of humour on stage, some of it a rehearsed act possibly, but they look to be having genuine fun up there, asking the audience what number they should do next and going for it with one exception, that they gamefully have a go out anyway. I’m sure a good 90% of their songs played are fan favourites plus tracks from the recent Fight Another Day album, but to play them in a non-proscribed order takes balls, plus confidence in each others’ skills.
The audience not only get to pick songs they also get microphones passed to them to sing now and again as on ‘Ritual’ over which I hear Daiker’s keyboards rock out progressively but my eyes are fixated on the wonderful wobbling precision of both Brannon II’s hands as he delivers a master class in heavy funk bass playing and ‘Under My Skin’ is a prime beef beauty of a ballad, before a big bopping 90s synth solo drives it home.
The musical interplay in ‘I’m So Sorry’ is understated but ever present, whereas the front line are very much to the fore during ‘Cruise Together’ once the wailing sirens and effects give way to the metal chorded street funk over which Reed croons delightfully, prior to James and Brannon II each taking a solo, then playing in harmony.
Next, Daiker straps on a guitar and moves to the front to play ‘All For A Kiss’ from his solo album, country blues with a groove, the band join in with harmonies at the end before they launch into ‘The Heat’, followed by ‘Seven Sisters Road’ where we get another bass solo from Brannon II, including him playing it behind his head, and another from James, and it’s worth pointing out that while you’re watching these two move and groove around the stage Dan Pred at the back on drums is ensuring it’s all kept together, some heavy syncopation and infrequent jazz patterns going on without drawing attention to himself other than being a consummate musician.
My unfamiliarity and scrawling of notes in the dark might result in my omitting some of the songs played or their running order, but the extended ‘Baby Now’ section proves quite unforgettable, interpolating Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Relax’, ‘I Was Made For Loving You’ by Kiss, Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ and Boogie Nights by Heatwave, and that mad mixture somehow work.
Playing it straight, ‘Stronger Than Steel’ is AOR with heavy dynamics, and an anthemic guitar with the occasional jazzy phrase, and then they play ‘Rainbow Child’ following the request of a couple who’ve lost a child in recent times. Maudlin? Sentimental? Not on the night; a story told as it was, and something that would hardly translate in an arena but the more intimate surroundings of this venue becomes a shared bond for many. It plays out like Van Halen meets Hall & Oates, building towards an impressive solo from James.
Returning to encore with ‘Tiger In a Dress’, 90s keyboard sounds flowing out amid bursts of hard rocking guitar, the band still bound across the stage with energy, pogoing up and down in what becomes a loud musical mash-up drawing the evening to an impressive end.