A lot has happened since I last saw Giovanni Spano perform in the summer of 2018. The deVience frontman starred in the last series of The X Factor, progressing further in the UK singing competition than any other hard rock vocalist in as long as I can remember. He garnered the overwhelming support of the rock community, who were delighted to see ‘one of their own’ doing so well in the mainstream talent show. Since then, deVience has undergone a change in management and has been rebranded simply as GIO. Would Gio’s popularity on national television be reflected in an intimate Manchester nightclub? On 23rd March we found out, as GIO came to Night People, where Bad Dog opened up the stage.
Formed in 2010, Bad Dog are a rock quartet hailing from the rugged shores of The Isle of Anglesey in North Wales. The band, consisting of Martin J. Byast on guitar and lead vocals, Oli Owen on guitar, Ben Langley on bass and Mark Beech on drums, have spent the last 12 months pushing to take their act to the next level, making a big splash on the UK’s vibrant rock scene. The band brought a high-energy slab of potent rock and roll to the small stage, delivering groove-laden songs from their self-titled debut EP, including’ Dead Man’s Shoes’, ‘Jupiter’ and ‘Hot Stuff’, which is apparently not about curry!
‘House Of Sin’ – written about a house on Anglesey – received a great reception, as did a new song about Byast’s “longest serving friend” – his amp – which is going on a new album that’s due to be recorded later in the year. The band – who reached the national finals of The Highway to Hell VI contest back in 2015, played at Hard Rock Hell in 2017 and are also due to appear at HRH AOR next year – performed like a well-oiled engine, deftly playing strong, catchy melodies that sustained the full force of Byast’s powerhouse vocals.
The high-octane set also included well-executed covers of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ and ‘Electric Worry’ by Clutch. There was some exceptional guitar work courtesy of axeman Oli Owen, who effortlessly shredded with his guitar behind his head for what seemed like nearly an entire song, and the band closed out with an explosive finale – unrelenting strobe lights mirroring the intensity of the music. Having visibly warmed up throughout their set, Bad Dog really brought it home and ended up on fire!
Although they have been around for nearly a decade, Bad Dog seem to have found their time to shine – adding themselves to the growing list of fine NWOCR bands to have emerged from Wales in recent years.
One thing you can guarantee about a GIO show is that there will be a disproportionate ratio of females to males in the audience, especially compared to your average hard rock gig. Gio has always been the focal point of deVience – the main pull if you like – and that’s truer now than ever before. As the band members took their places on the stage, Gio waited for a moment before making his entrance. As soon as they saw him, the ladies went wild and Gio shouted, “Let’s get you dancing”! Gio is a born showman – last year he appeared in Jim Steinman’s musical ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ – so as you might expect, his style is undeniably theatrical and he knows exactly how to play to the crowd and thrill his fans – especially the women.
Another thing you’ll notice about the self-assured frontman is that he has boundless energy – it’s as if someone has lit his fuse and thrown him onto the stage! “Right guys, this is going to be a physical one!” he teases, as he leans across the barrier to get up close to members of the audience – the personal interaction clearly excites his fans, many of whom have travelled from far and wide to be here tonight. Around me is a group of women who’ve come all the way from Great Yarmouth – I heard one of them say it took them nine hours to get to Manchester!
As the opening song ‘Ignition’ comes to an end it’s met with huge cheers and Gio calls “This is only the beginning!” before launching into the rest of the set – which includes original songs by deVience as well as covers that Gio performed on The X Factor, such as ‘Saturday’, ‘Baby One More Time’ (Gio’s choice for ‘Guilty Pleasures Week’, if I’m not mistaken), ‘Let Me Entertain You’, ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ and ’Live And Let Die’. The upbeat crowd-pleasers had everybody singing along from the get-go, creating a fun, lively and hot atmosphere.
The full-throttle stomper ‘Take Me Down’, which was written about the band’s trip to LA, had bodies sweating and fists punching the air, while new tracks such as ‘Always Thirsty’, were also thrown into the rollicking mix. Gio is no shrinking violet. He’s well aware of his appeal and he revels in playing up to it – turning his back to the audience like a Chippendale (I would imagine), before peeling off his jacket and ripping open another shirt button. “Girls, let’s get you dancing! Guys, let’s get you head-banging! Who’s getting sweaty? It’s getting hot up here ’cause you’re all so fucking sexy!” The set flew by and the band put on a barnstorming show, with Gio naturally being the unrivalled centre of attention.
The rest of the band members were given a few minutes to have a little party of their own and they had a fantastic jam – playing consummately together and proving that they are a solid rock outfit whose musical proficiency shouldn’t be underestimated because of their leading man’s dominance. Before the funky swaggering number ‘Move’ started, Gio returned to the stage to teach the audience the lyrics “The way she moves”, which were repeated back on command. The generous set ended to enthusiastic calls of “Gio, Gio!” as the promise of new music was made.
Giovanni Spano will probably always retain a diehard nucleus of fans and supporters who will follow him on tour around the country, but any long-term effect that his run of primetime TV appearances may have on the commercial success of his band – who didn’t accompany him on his X Factor journey – remains to be seen. The British viewing public are a fickle lot, whereas real rock fans are a loyal bunch of badasses who’ll stand by their man every step of the way… even to Manchester.