With Reef’s latest material going in a heavier, rockier and almost AC/DC direction, it seemed appropriate for the first support act to be a rock band dressed in black. Whilst their name doesn’t have black in their title, Welsh rockers Scarlet Rebels not only looked the part but proved they were contenders who undoubtedly will be headlining London venues like the Forum.
From a new promising act came nostalgia from the main support act, the late nineties/early noughties indie/rock band 'A'. Unlike many acts that have reformed after splitting up, 'A' were not about testing new material (they haven’t written any!); it was purely about taking the audience down memory lane and getting them to relive their youth and 'A'’s peak in 2002 when their third, silver certified LP Hi-Fi Serious entered the top twenty. Whilst some of 'A'’s back-catalogue has dated, A did something incredible at the Forum, seldom seen elsewhere. Being mindful that the audience was now 20 years older than when Hi-Fi Serious was released when the audience used to join in raucous circling mosh pits; lead vocalist Jason Perry got Kentish Town to participate in non-aggressive and non-violent “age-appropriate” mosh circling where the crowd either walked or danced in a circle. The participants couldn’t have looked happier.
One would have thought that for the main act, who themselves had a six-year hiatus and didn’t record a new LP for eighteen years, solely reliving halcyon memories would be a safe bet (after all, their second LP turns 25 this year). When Reef addressed the stage, they opened with a new song that shares the title of their new album, Shoot Me Your Ace. Whilst this track's heavy rock AC/DC sound drew the crowd, there was a greater sense that Reef had found a new direction and made it their own. Reef wasn’t “Back in Black” at all, although based frontman Gary Stringer and bassist and keyboard Jack Bessant appearance with thick long hair and beards (that would make any man over 30 envious): Reef were back and bearded.
Over a third of the set was devoted to their biggest selling sophomore LP Glow; the joyous reaction to these songs didn’t appear overly superior to songs from their other five LPs. The biggest hit, “Place Your Hands”, was not played before the encore or as a playout track. The two songs from their last 2018 album, Revelation: “Precious Metal” and “Revelation”, enjoyed similar levels of BPM dancing and occasional crowd-surfing. Interestingly, Revelation and Shoot Me Your Ace material tests Gary Stringer’s vocal range more than their first four albums. The crowd respected the hunger and passion to use more energy rather than chill and croon, who showed appreciation by enthusiastically clapping on cue.
The choice of back catalogue songs selected also paid homage to Reef's new direction. For example, Getaway had the most pop-rock and instant songs, including the singles "Set the Record Straight" and "Superhero". Yet instead, they played the rockier playout track "I Do Not Know What They Will Do", and the crowd agreed with Stringer when he said that Reef doesn’t play that song enough live. Likewise, selecting Ride's heavy, catchy and infectious opener, "New Bird" complimented the set's theme.
From the way bassist and keyboard, Jack Bessant shook his hair back and forth alongside live guitar band member Amy Newton (who has similar length hair minus the beard); Reef having new permanent members Jesse Wood on guitar and Luke Bullen on drums; it’s all change for Reef and fans are loving it. Also, demonstrating that they could do the old stuff as well as they did back in the late nineties didn’t hurt either.