“These guys should be playing stadiums.”
Those were my girlfriend’s first words as Gang of Youth‘s show at The Belasco last Wednesday night ended, and I couldn’t agree with her more. The Australian band put on a show that was both epic and intimate, blowing the audience away with their bravura performance heavily focusing on their latest musical masterpiece angel in realtime.
The night opened with the very unassuming Quinn Christopherson. The slightly awkward, gangly Alaska native came onstage with the help of one musician friend, and opened with the song “Bubblegum”, a track with quirky lyrics but an honest sentiment of insecurity at its heart. With that and the track 2005, it at first seemed that Christopherson’s music was more comedy-based, but it soon became clear that while a number of his songs may initially come disguised as goofs, they masked a deep sincerity and poetic beauty within (“I watch your hair blend in with the sky” on “Evelene”). While never taking himself too seriously on stage, joking about his bandmate’s pants and jokingly responding to his own songs, Christopherson’s style of intimate, confessional songs proved to be capable of devastating vulnerability (“Raedeen”) and thoughtfulness (“Loaded Gun”). Check out his music here.
When the lights later started flashing to signal Gang of Youths coming entrance, there was a true fervor in the air. The band came out to huge applause from an audience that one could tell were repeat attendees or aware of the band’s stellar reputation. Opener “The Angel of 8th Ave” was perfect for getting the crowd energized. The anthemic romantic song gave frontman David Le’aupepe a chance to conquer the stage with his bustling dance moves, spins and overall showmanship. The drama and panache Le’aupepe brings to each song makes the band’s shows a true spectacle, bringing each song’s story to life. He traded the ending verses of “There is heaven in you now” with the audience, who were happy to sing back to the band.
The band followed this up with “the man himself” and then the anthemic 2015 single “The Heart is a Muscle”, which had the audience once again singing along. Le’aupepe got his groove on again with the haunting “tend the garden”, written from the perspective of his late father. Throughout the evening, Le’aupepe gave some “behind the song” color to the songs, explaining the stories at the heart of the band’s latest album, often putting himself in the harshest light for his past behavior. While Le’aupepe’s accent made it so I often could only make out half of what he was saying, the sentiment always came through.
While Le’aupepe is a true frontman’s frontman, the rest of the band deserves mention not only for their stellar musicianship, but also the warmth and camaraderie they shared with each other. As the group’s normal drummer had injured his hand, his duties were relegated to additional percussion and occasional keys, which a replacement drummer filled in. The group’s bassist brought good spirits, and joined with the talented violinist to provide some backing harmonies. And while their guitarist kept his performance tight-knit, his playing was crucial to bringing the group’s soaring songs to life.
As Le’aupepe sat down at the keyboard, the audience was treated to the emotional, one-two punch of “brothers” and “forbearance”, a song who’s lyrics continue to haunt me and move me (“If the whole thing was fair, It would be me that was fighting for air”). After these somber numbers, the band laid down the audience to do the un-cool, un-LA thing and dance our asses off, as the hip-shaking “Let Me Down Easy” kicked in. Le’aupepe had a few false starts to the song, not being satisfied by the balcony denizens’ energy and movement. Once the song did get into full swing, everyone was game for the party. The energy continue through “Magnolia”, all the way to the final song of the main set “In the Wake of Your Leave”, a huge, melodic anthem. As the band left, the audience was still singing along to the “bomp bomp bomps” of the song, and kept it going even stronger once the band was gone.
When the band returned for the fully-expected encore, they smartly went with “goal of the century”, which perfectly closes out angel in realtime, and was a smart capo on the narrative of the show. But, so as not to leave things on a sad note, the band jammed out to the fiery “What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out”, which was a blur of guitar fury, hair-whipping and rock n’ roll energy. While I had hoped to get the epic “Say Yes to Life” as a closer, it didn’t sour the show for me in the least.
If this were the 80’s, Gang of Youths would be mentioned with U2 and Bruce Springsteen as one of the biggest rock acts in the world. They are an album band, telling a story through incredible songwriting, and they have the live show to match their ambition. They’ve sadly just started in a world where their style of empowering melodic rock isn’t as en-vogue as it should be. This is a band that’s going to have to keep busting their asses to let word of mouth of their greatness bring in new fans until the whole world knows their names. It will happen if there is any justice in the world.
If you’re not familiar with the band yet, get started by listening to them here.