Live Music + Gig Reviews

Reef @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

23 April 2010

It’s always a worry when a ’90s indie band decide to get back together for a reunion tour because: A) It makes fans feel old and B) The reformed reality may not live up to cherished memories.

The last time Reef had a new studio album out was 2003, so with no action for seven years bar a Best Of, it’s enough to make any dedicated fan nervous. But the boys from Glastonbury are here tonight to remind us of the good old days.

Reef’s popularity had waned by the beginning of the new millennium. But what the masses failed to realise was that Reef weren’t an indie-pop outfit. Rather, they were a fierce rock/grunge band with a twang of Pearl Jam about them.

Tonight they open with their 1997 hit Come Back Brighter, to ease the crowd in. Gary Stringer swaggers around the stage with a pinch of attitude and rasps away with his gravelly vocals. Taking a closer look, it’s as if they haven’t been away at all. Stringer still has the baggy tee and jeans and the signature ’90s white trainers. Perhaps he has been locked away in the Rock closet for all these years.

The next tune up, Stone For Your Love from Together, works very well in this venue. It has big heavy guitars and a deeply grunge vibe to it. Stringer whips out that most ’90s of band staples, the tambourine, and hits it with determined purpose whilst furiously headbanging. It’s quite a sight to see. The pace slows as Mellow echoes around the venue. Its slow beat, soft strums and delicate vocals prove soothing but stunning. The same can be said of Consideration. These ballads show a softer side of Reef, and it’s very endearing.

Out of nowhere their highest charting single, Place Your Hands, propels into the crowd. Interestingly, it is actually one of their weakest songs and it lacks the zest of other tracks performed tonight, such as the mighty Summer’s In Bloom, a dark and twisty grunge tune which forms an almighty mosh pit and launches crowdsurfers. Stringer gets out an acoustic guitar and sits on a chair strumming out the music to I’ve Got Something To Say, which takes things down a notch.

Even though it is a beautiful song, it is slightly cheapened by rock catchphrases like “Right On! and “Oh Yeah”, and they zoom through their set with little crowd communication. But the last two songs before the encore, Lately Stomping and Choose To Live, are the best of the set; the first is a surreal lounge number and the second a long dynamic tune with an immense guitar instrumental section. The encore involves Naked, You’re Old and appropriately, End, after which the foursome saunter off stage to shouts and screams of happy approval. For a moment it’s as if they’ve never left.

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Reef @ Astoria, London