Sunday 5 November 2023

Spangled / The Assist / Arkayla - Manchester Gorilla - 4th November 2023

Spangled headlined the reopening of Gorilla's gig space on Saturday night supported by Walsall's The Assist and Manchester's own Arkayla. A perfect choice for the first night back, a Manchester band filling a room that is a rite of passage on so many local band's journeys to bigger spaces, Spangled delighted a packed crowd with an hour of songs that demonstrated their readiness to take that step themselves.

Arkayla are first up and the Manchester four-piece make a good impression on first listen. There’s a crowd down the front who know them already, but the rest of us are drawn forwards by the quality of the songs and the strength of the musicianship. They have songs with hooks that grab you, make you feel you’re familiar with them but without feeling like they’re simply copying someone else’s template. They open with their only single Calling Time, a brave move but a sign of their confidence. 

They’re at their best when they layer on vocal harmonies from the bassist and guitarist particularly on No Man’s Land and the slower paced mid-set Ella Malone. They save their best for last though. Paid For Cash is a no nonsense three and a bit minute romp with the guitarist taking the lead in the verses into its big chorus and they do it without the posturing that often comes with it. 

The Assist are up next, a band we last saw six years ago across the road at The Ritz supporting The Twang. Since then we've obviously had a pandemic and they've released their debut album Council Pop last year from which most of their set is taken including key tracks End Of The World, Daydream and the final two songs of their set Television Kid and Better Days at which point they've won over those in the crowd that don't know them, but judging the response earlier there's a sizeable chunk of their fans already here.

The Walsall-based band clearly know how to handle a crowd and the energy in their songs is infectious, particularly in a dark hazy room like this, of which there isn't a better one in the city. Mikey is an engaging front man who bounds around the stage commanding the room as his band mates create the grooves that underpin their sound. Best of all is a new song called What's Best For You? mid-set that both fits with what's around it, but which shows they're evolving their sound and still have that belief in themselves when others may have given up after so long without a big break. 

Gorilla is full by the time Spangled come on stage. This is the first time we've seen them, but it won't be the last. It'd be easy to dismiss them, as I'm sure plenty have and will, on the basis of their name, the "let's get fucking spangled" chant that reverberates around the echoey railway tunnel in which Gorilla sits and the football shirts they wear (for balance, two United, two City). Spangled though are smarter and more savvy than that. The upturned setlist on stage which we try and turn over to get a quick pic of the song titles (blog reviewers tip number one for a band you don't know that well is to get a setlist picture for the review) simply says "Song 1, Song 2, What Are You Looking At The Setlist For, Gotcha, Song 5, Honestly Stop Looking, It'll Get You Nowhere, Enjoy The Show x" We've warmed to them before they even arrive on stage.

When they do the roar is almost deafening as they launch into their set, barely pausing for breath for the first forty-five minutes. Their songs take you on a journey, there's the Madchester-influenced songs that you could geo-locate by the bass line of course, but rather than fill a set with variations of them like many of their contemporaries do, Spangled demonstrate that their record collections and influences have a much wider scale. Greenhills Superstar, Crossbar Challenge and Little Tom, named after an audience member who (we think) gets up on stage during the song, are fast-paced head rushes of loud guitars and barked lyrics that have the Gorilla dance floor turn into a seething moshpit and turn the temperature up in the volume. Ben shows himself to be a unique front man, losing himself in the moment, unsure of what he's going to do next rather than the stilted static posing of many fellow front men. It gives Spangled an unpredictability that serves them well.

They've also got songs with big singalong choruses. That Farm In Dunham and Nowt Special build like they were created for rooms many times the size of this. They have their tender side too. In a touching moment, Ben and guitarist Jamie sit down on the front of the stage while bassist Niall and drummer Nathan depart and play a beautifully tender stripped down Smile Forever dedicated to Jamie's mum who passed away recently. They segue it into a short cover of The Smiths' There Is A Light That Never Goes Out with the full band on stage and a chorus of five hundred in the crowd providing the backing vocals.

Best of all though is Good Life Better, a song about how music, friendship and love are one of life's greatest healers - the chorus lyric "and when the music starts playing and we heard the first note of that song, that's when all the scars inside my soul were gone... you make my good life better, cast your nightmare into the sky" - capturing perfectly why this coming together of people to play and listen to music is so so important. It's a song big enough for stadiums, but intimate enough for rooms of this size. They finish on a soaring Cosmic Vibrations before taking their richly deserved bows after giving us a lesson that you should never judge a book solely by its cover.

Spangled are on Facebook and Twitter.

The Assist are on Facebook and Twitter.

Arkayla are on Instagram and Twitter.

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