REVIEW: High Spirits, Manchester 27/02/17

It was a dark, cold and windy Monday night, even for Manchester. The last place then that you would expect to find the intensely bright light of Chicago’s High Spirits shining, but Retro Bar was next on their post-Brofest mini tour of the UK and I couldn’t wait to get inside and feel the power(and the warmth). This was the first time that the band had ever played in Manchester, and it was certainly going to be one of the rarer opportunities to see them in such an intimate environment, shared only by the faithful few that had ventured out into the chill on a school night.

Arriving just before 9PM meant that unfortunately I missed the opening act Aggressive Perfector, but from what I heard they impressed everybody in attendance and I hope to catch them at a later date. I had however arrived in time for the second band on the bill Ascalon, who had escaped my grasp for a while after first appearing on my radar last year. Working with what was a tough space and a far from packed house, they commanded a pretty big presence on stage from the get go and their energy was very infectious. Those who had been standing back waiting for the headliner found themselves moving forward with every track that went by and headbanging before the set was out. Playing material from last years release Reflections alongside some older bits and some newer bits - notably an excellent ballad that they were trialling that night  - Ascalon brought some classically Northern Heavy Metal to Manchester and it went down a treat. I hope to see them playing a fuller set at some point in the future as I felt that they were only just warming up as their time was up.

High Spirits

Now I have to admit that these days driving an hour in the rain for a tiny gig isn’t something that I would normally have the dedication for, but I’ve really wanted to see High Spirits ever since somebody gave me their debut album years ago and said, “This band is for you”. Their self-proclaimed brand of ‘High Energy Rock’ speaks to my very soul every time that I stick them on, and with three albums now under their belt I was itching to finally see what they could bring to the live arena. I was originally planning on making it to Brofest in Newcastle but other work got in the way and I couldn’t make it, so I was thrilled to see that they had added sunny Manchester to the list. I had also dreamt in my head of seeing them under big, bright colourful lights to a sold out festival crowd, but in reality the charming little space downstairs at Retro Bar strips artists of any ego or preconceptions about their act and it added a real uniqueness to the performance. After thanking the loyal few for making the trip out, the Chicago foursome proceeded to get to it and burst into their opener.

The small stage struggled to contain such an energetic band, but they moved around each other with a well polished fluidity, and made their way through a blistering one hour set that was sprinkled with gems from all three albums and even ventured back to their first demo opening track ‘Torture’ which was a very welcome surprise. From last years Motivator we heard the blazing ‘Flying High’ alongside the softer, humble album finisher ‘Thank You’. These tracks, and indeed the album itself hold up very well against the rest of their material, but for me they are still in the new album hype phase and I was really eager to hear some stone cold classics as well. They obliged of course and when they cranked into ‘Another Night in the City’ the show really got started. This was the first song I’d ever heard from the band and the track that essentially sold me on them so I was really happy that it made an appearance, and it was great fun to see them still enjoy playing it so much nearly six years down the line. Another stalwart from the debut album that made the cut was ‘Nights in Black’, one of my overall favourites from High Spirits and a song that I think stands without comparison in their catalogue. There’s an almost ballad-esque feeling in it that we don’t hear anywhere else, and it shows another dimension to the writing talents of the band. As the hour came to a close they finished things in style with a two pronged attack, starting with the self-titled crowd pleaser ‘High Spirits’ and climaxing with You Are Here’s adrenaline pumping opener ‘When the Lights Go Down’ which really brought the house down and saw the band exit to huge applause.

I was honestly quite apprehensive about seeing a band that I hold in such high esteem in my head in such a small venue, but once I arrived and soaked up the atmosphere I realised that I was really lucky to see them somewhere like Retro Bar, and they really did not disappoint. I would love to show you a full gallery of great shots from the night but the truth is that is was almost black in there so I just took a few for the article and then put the camera away to enjoy the set. Here’s hoping I get to see them at the other end of the spectrum next time for a different perspective on things!

Twitter: @BandsPlayedOn


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