LIVE: Mallory Knox / Dead! / Judas @ Rebellion, Manchester

By Gem Rogers

Mallory Knox have had quite the year. After releasing third album, Wired – their second to reach the top 20 in the UK album chart – in March 2017, there were festival appearances, headlining shows at 1000+ capacity venues, and a support slot for Good Charlotte. Things were looking pretty great for the five guys from Cambridge. Then in February this year came the announcement that vocalist Mikey Chapman was leaving the band after nearly nine years – a colossal blow for fans and a change that could easily see the end of many bands.

Not so for Mallory Knox, though, who hit the ground running with style and determination, immediately announcing new tour dates and material with bassist/vocalist Sam Douglas stepping into the void left by Chapman. Manchester’s Rebellion sees the sixth of their eight date tour, the first chance for fans to sample the future of the band.

Opening the evening falls to London-based Judas, who have the misfortune of starting only a few minutes after doors in a venue with woefully slow admittance. Still, the crowd gradually grows through a set that deserves far more than a half-full room – this is indie rock at its finest. Driven by jangly guitars and bouncy drums, earworm choruses, and vocals that are clear as a bell, they dive through seven varied and brilliantly executed tracks. Bassist James Phillips delivers fluid basslines whilst managing to look so laid back he could be asleep – an entertaining contrast to front man John Clancy, whose stoke is infectious. They bring much needed summer sun into a darkened room on a rainy Manchester night; upcoming single ‘Wonderland’ has a festival-perfect, anthemic chorus to die for. There’s no doubt that Judas are a band to watch this year – big things are coming.

Dead! (exclamation mark theirs) are main support, and emerge on the stage with a promise that “we’re going to play you some rock and roll songs!” (exclamation mark assumed). Rock and roll probably isn’t the best definition for what Dead! do; a thrashing punk sound infused with something altogether heavier and more melodic. It’s a bit like what might happen if you were to somehow breed the music of King Blues with Nirvana… You may be arrested for it, but it’s an interesting combination all the same. They are brash and unapologetic; singer Alex Mountford has all the swagger and eye-rolling attitude of a 70s don’t-give-a-f?%! punk. The songs aren’t as catchy or memorable as the band they’ve followed, but there’s enough stage presence for a captivating ride.

The room is buzzing by the time Mallory Knox kick off with Feeder-esque ‘Black Holes’. It’s their first new track since Chapman’s departure, and seems to make a statement – “this is us now, like it or not”. The crowd are content with that and plenty of voices sing along, but the real question is how Douglas will fare when it comes to the back catalogue. His vocals always offered a sharper contrast to the warm, gritty, emotion-filled tones of Chapman; so is he capable of stepping into those shoes? The answer is mixed, but on the whole, a resounding (and pleasantly surprising) Yes.

Ploughing straight on into ‘Beggars’, this is a band who are here to prove themselves, yet the energy in the room seems low until the fourth track of the evening begins. “If you don’t know this one, well, I don’t know why you’re here” jokes Douglas of ‘Getaway’. There are just a few moments where he struggles vocally but none more noticeable than on ‘Shout At The Moon’. It simply isn’t suited to his style. The new songs are promising, however; ‘Psycho Killer’ is a heavier, indie-tinged track with a pounding bassline and stands out well.

There’s a sudden change in pace two thirds of the way through the set as the aptly named ‘Wake Up’ does just that to the crowd. The pit opens, and the enthusiasm in the room is palpable – perhaps it simply took a while for fans to realise that this is the same band they know and love after all. Backing vocals from guitarists James Gillett and Joe Savins are on point, particularly during set closer ‘Better Off Without You’. A stunning song lyrically and musically, the high notes in the chorus are out of Douglas’ reach and filled in elegantly by Gillett for a satisfying finale to a relatively short set.

During the show, Douglas thanks everyone in the room for being “the reason we wanted to keep doing this” and the gratitude is heartfelt. It looks like Mallory Knox may be striking a new – yet still familiar – path musically; a bold move but one that is ultimately the best one they could make. It may take a little time for fans to familiarise themselves with the new songs and sound, and a little fine-tuning on the set list, but one thing’s for certain – Mallory Knox still have what it takes to deliver an outstanding live show, and they’re going to stick around to prove it.