I’ve been a bit sniffy about tribute bands in the past, and deep in my bones I suspect I always might be; it’s the “it’s not really them” factor I suppose.  But having seen three of the best in the business: The Australian Pink Floyd, The Musical Box and Rumours Of Fleetwood Mac, I’ve learned to appreciate how seriously these bands take the work they do and how much their fans love it as well.

Just like the previously mentioned tribute bands, Nearly Dan have built up a loyal following over their 21-year history.  The Ballroom at The Voodoo Rooms is crammed to capacity with fans who have seen the band before and when the nine-piece band take to the stage they are welcomed like old friends.

One thing is for sure; if you are going to be a Steely Dan tribute band then being merely good just isn’t good enough; you need to be exceptional and right from the outset Nearly Dan show that they are up to the task. A brisk  run through The Boston Rag from The Dan’s Countdown To Ecstasy gets both the band and the audience warmed up nicely.  Dr Wu features the first of several fine solos from sax player Tim France.  Lead singer and guitarist Steve Hayes describes Everything You Did as a work in progress that they have previously shied away from due to the “impossible” guitar solo.  Lead guitarist Rob Rolph makes a perfectly good fist of it as far as I can see but it is clear that the band feel that they haven’t quite nailed this one yet.

As the evening progresses it becomes increasingly clear just what a superb bunch of musicians Nearly Dan are.  Steve Hayes USA fine guitarist in his own right.  Trumpeter Phil Nichols meshes effortlessly with France and delivers some excellent solos as well.  Bandleader and keyboard player Gary Davies simply gets on with the job of providing a solid backbone for the rest of the band, as does drummer Carl Hemingsley.  It seems unfair to single out one of the band for particular praise but bassist Ollie Collins is simply superb, despite appearing to have some technical issues with his five string bass.  My only criticism of the gig is that backing vocalists Kate Robertson and Sarah Miller are rather too buried in the mix.

The band’s first set is impressive enough but the second set really pulls out all the stops.  Do It Again, Black Friday, Kid Charlemagne, Reelin’ In The Years and Bodhisattva – what a set of songs.  For the encore the band play what Steve describes as “the 12” version” of My Od School, my favourite Steely Dan song.  If Steely Dan had ever played Freebird, this is probably what it would have sounded like.  Steve and Rob trade guitar lines, Ollie dazzles on bass and the band stop dead so that Phil and Tim can make the sound of California tumbling into the sea.

Nearly Dan might not be Steely Dan but they are nearly, and tonight that is more than enough.

John Scott

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