Gang of Youths
Okay, so hands up everyone who was at the Gang of Youths gig, who dreamed of David Le’aupepe afterwards? I admit it, I did; he was sitting in my garden looking hairy and handsome and full of himself, and talked non-stop.. about himself. And that’s kind of what a Gang of Youths show is now, an hour and half of David. You see it in interviews when he is with one of the other band members, where he is self-aware enough to notice he is talking too much and asks someone else to answer, but then interrupts them and answers anyway.
I have written before in 2017, and 2018 that David is a fantastic frontman and that he leads his gang confidently with peerless songs and a charismatic delivery. However, lately, in between songs he is apt to spit out garbled ‘f’ word laden monologues that go nowhere, whereas four years ago he was desperate to explain where his heart was and how he came to write his songs. He really should allow the others a word in now or just let his songs speak for themselves, because as soon as he starts singing, his personality and wisdom is laid out beautifully.
Angel In Realtime
This current Gang of Youths tour is to promote the new album ‘Angel in Realtime’. I didn’t think the band could top 2017’s stunning ‘Go Farther In Lightness’ but they do. Their earlier material is panoramic and deals in universal issues and feelings of love and death, supported by thumping drums and clanging guitars, whereas in 2022 the subject matter is detailed and personal and intimate, dealing with family secrets and lies, and the music is string laden and softer and poppier. For me some of that intimacy on the album is getting lost when it translates into the arena of a standard rock gig with the obligatory strobe lights, punching the air and posturing.
It is like the band has moved on musically, but when they take to the stage are still acting out rock n roll cliches. There is an almost calculated and business-like move from the personal sets of old to the impersonal one tonight and I guess this is to do with playing to bigger audiences in the UK now and feeling they need to be bigger and brasher than they were before. But the thing is, Gang of Youths are used to playing stadiums in their homeland so the shift to larger venues here should not be a stretch for them and they should be confident enough to not lose any warmth they had previously. It’s as if they have support band syndrome and are performing like they need to win over an audience by pummelling them into submission, when we are already won over.
Sure, there are moments of subtlety during the softer tracks ‘spirit boy’ and ‘forbearance’ and in the introduction to ‘unison’, and the 70’s disco tinged ‘tend the garden’, but the band don’t seem fully comfortable or convincing wearing those clothes, and David just desperately wants to wear his well-worn black trousers, black vest and black shirt forever, while banging his chest through ‘The Heart Is a Muscle’.
You can almost feel that when previously there were spontaneous moments in a set, they are all now part and parcel of it. Take the song ‘The Deepest Sighs, the Frankest Shadows’, on the 2018 tour the audience was invited to sing the final words: “Cos not everything means something, honey. So say the unsayable, say the most human of things. If everything is temporary, I will bear the unbearable terrible triteness of being” – this time it is expected and planned for. Also the build up before ‘Let Me Down Easy’ where David demands the fans dance and then the songs starts but stops because not enough energy is being shown in the crowd, just feels forced and worn out now.
The only time the crowd interaction feels real is at the finale of set closer ‘in the wake of your leave’ where fans sing along with the five notes of the sampled auto-tuned voice. The band waves goodbye and leaves the stage and the audience keep on singing those five notes in unison.. and they keep singing, and keep on singing and clapping for minutes until Gang of Youths come back on stage, and still we keep on singing until David thanks us and sits at his piano for the first encore, the rather subdued ‘goal of the century’.
It is a beautiful end to the album but in a room full of talkers I can’t help thinking they are missing the most profound words David ever wrote as he softly sings: “We’re thinking of children.. I wish you could meet them”. The volume is soon cranked up again for the last song ‘What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out?’ which ignites the audience before the final farewell of the Institute Saturday 10pm curfew.
Not just a rock band any more
I do feel that as the audience numbers have grown in the UK, their strength has also been diluted. In the early gigs there was 100% love for the band in the crowd, whereas now I had a fear that there were those in attendance who are Mumford & Sons or Sam Fender fans, and maybe saw Gang of Youths supporting them previously and just came along. This is because in the past, when David sang solo with just guitar or piano, there is not a sound in the room, tonight the conversations and drink orders at the bar did not stop, spoiling these intense and poignant moments.. when will people shut up when musicians are playing?
My wife said to me only this week how there are certain moments and events she would like to totally forget in order to experience them again as if for the first time, when she could recreate that sense of wonder and excitement. Having seen Gang of Youths in 2017 and 2018 in smaller venues, I almost wish I could forget those shows and see the band live again as a new fan, because I would be as excited as the capacity audience in the Institute is tonight… and they really are blown away, so I know it is just me getting all moody at the back of the venue, because there was a time when I was only four feet away from my band at the Sunflower Lounge.
And yes, I know I sound like like a jealous lover and a music snob by letting my knowledge and affection for this band cloud my judgement and opinion of this show, but I have to be honest and personal and allow my four year relationship with Gang of Youths to colour my feelings… that is what Gang of Youths are all about: honesty; no holds barred; pouring out your heart and soul; blood, sweat and tears. David will understand even if his fans don’t. But it is actually more than pure petulance, I have an honest desire to see Gang of Youths push their live shows to something that matches the beauty and majesty of their new album; they are not just a rock band anymore.
The Angel of 8th Ave.
The Man Himself
The Heart Is a Muscle
Tend the garden
Let Me Down Easy
The Deepest Sighs, the Frankest Shadows
In the wake of your leave
Goal of the century
What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out?
Support for Gang of Youths came from Charlie Collins
and Tom A Smith
Photographs by Ian Dunn
Review by Alan Neilson