A band that never quite seemed to get their dues when at their peak (or even since), Reef are undergoing something of a renaissance nowadays. Revelation, their fifth studio album and first in 18 years, is proving to be exactly that. Frontman Gary Stringer has discussed their return in interviews, describing his unwillingness to release new material unless it was, “Great, not just good”. The early signs are that he has accomplished that feat, and a string of sold-out shows around the country indicate that the appetite remains firm from fans too. Tonight’s early set at Concorde 2 proved that Reef are back, bigger and perhaps even better than before.
There’s a summer festival feel to the start of Desert Mountain Tribe’s support slot, with full daylight across the room as the side doors are thrust open in the heat. With a thin scattering of audience members to begin with, they are understandably a little slow to heat up but there are exciting hints of a mix of The Verve and Spiritualized in a crashing crescendo. Following them, the atmosphere continues to build as those post-work pints are sunk and the party shows all the signs of being about to kick off.
Starting with ‘Naked’, the oldest track on show tonight, it is an act of Reef saying “Remember us?” before moving triumphantly into their new material. ‘Ball And Chain’ could easily sit in AC/DC’s back catalogue, a bluesy hard-rocking number with Stringer’s voice resplendent in its throaty power. “It’s early, but it’s still Friday night” he points out, a powerhouse of a presence – at points, geeing the crowd up from the amps, at others on his haunches gauging the temperature of the room. With a thumping, hammering sound from new(ish) guitarist Jesse Wood and the man-mountain Jack Bessant on bass, as well as the mighty Dom Greensmith on drums, it is a punishing volume that emanates from the stage – as heavy and potent as any other rock band to visit Brighton for some time.
Like the contents of a barrel of bourbon, Stringer’s voice appears to be improving with each passing year. His performance during ‘Precious Metal’ is phenomenal, his every word containing a goosebump-inducing quality in its delivery. What is equally impressive however is the fluidity of all of the band, with a flexibility of style in between each song – from the bar-room stomping blues-rock of ‘Lone Rider’ to the gospel southern rock (yes, you read that right) of ‘How I Got Over’. There is an ease in their playing that is impressive to behold, and a well-placed confidence in their new material that is genuinely refreshing and exciting. By the time they move into the second half of the set, there will have been not one person in that audience yearning only for nuggets from the Glow era – their high point commercially – but when they inevitably do arrive, it takes the roof off.
‘Don’t You Like It’ is first up, funky, raw and containing a mighty Stringer roar too. By the time its extended jam outro finishes, both Wood and Stringer are in the crowd. As Brighton’s very own Soul of the City Choir join the band for ‘Consideration’, a huge cheer goes up and a mass singalong follows. ‘Place Your Hands’ is rolled out with no special fuss, a mere step in this band’s journey rather than a millstone or point of definition – if anything, ‘Come Back Brighter’ is even more rapturously welcomed by a crowd now having the time of their lives. Though some of the songs may now be over 20 years old, tonight is a celebration of the here and now, no mere nostalgia trip, from a band that seem to be at the height of their powers. As clichéd as it may be, the show is a revelation from start to finish. One of the more surprising comebacks is looking like a resounding success, welcome back guys.