Gang of Youths@ o2 Institute, 9 May 2018

Almost 12 months ago I witnessed the best gig of 2017 when Gang of Youths played the Sunflower Lounge .  That small tour paved the way for the release of their album ‘Go Farther in Lightness’ in August, when some of its songs were played live for the first time by a nervous David Le’aupepe and co.  That night however, did not prepare me for how good an album ‘Go Farther in Lightness’ would be.  It is a rare thing these days, when streaming individual songs is the trend, that someone would create an album that demands to be listened to from beginning to end, but ‘Go Farther..’ is that kind of album.  One day it will be as revered as ‘What’s Going On?’ or ‘Tapestry’ or ‘Colour of Spring’ or ‘Wish You Were Here’: it is a journey, not a short bus ride… it is a symphony not a ring tone.

There are three bands on tonight and unfortunately I miss The Graveltones who were described later as being both “f’in rubbish” and “not f’in rubbish”, so I am gutted I couldn’t get to see them, as I love a band that splits opinion.  Second support tonight is London band King Nun who have been often mentioned in lists of artists who will make it big in 2018.  This always makes me question whether they are worthy of such praise or whether it is just hype, but witnessing their set tonight I can definitely agree they are doing everything right to attract a following.  They have four extremely focused band members who explode on stage and give their absolute all.  Their songwriting is very clearly aimed at a pop market with great use of standard song structures, melodic hooks and interesting dynamics.  Their sound is a deliberate mix of punk, grunge and pop with influences ranging from Blur and Nirvana to Pavement and Pixies; but harder and tighter.  Lead singer Theo screams like Frank Black one moment then is talking/crooning like Albarn the next.  With memorable hooks, raw guitar sounds and pounding bass and drums, King Nun really do sound like they could reach a much wider audience very soon.  I’m glad I got my selfie with Theo while I still can.

I described the last Gang of Youths gig as something bordering on group therapy, and that night was a cathartic experience for everyone there; band and audience.  Light was shone into those dark areas of our consciousness and we learned not to be afraid.  Tonight is like the second session, only this time it is about empowerment, positivity and love.  The lesson is simple “You wanted to fight for a cause? Then go out and fall in love. Don’t stop, don’t stop believing” and “I wanna overcome and try to love someone”.  It’s just that simple.  Love.  But this message is not delivered with a flower in a gun barrel or sat cross legged on the floor; it is screamed from the rooftops, along every street, into every heart and home.  It is bigger and better and more meaningful than before, it is heartbreakingly beautiful and I just never wanted it to end.  And it didn’t because when I replayed the songs from the new album after the show, they became clearer having witnessed them being delivered by David and his gang.  The words seem to resonate more than before and the meaning becomes clearer and more powerful.  This is what it means to see Gang of Youths; it is life changing – I shit you not.

What is interesting is that this tour sees the new album completely in the spotlight.  Of the 14 songs played only 3 are from the first album ‘The Positions’, all the rest are from ‘Go Farther in Lightness’.  As happened last year none of the tracks from the ep ‘Let Me Be Clear’ are played, which is strange because it has such great songs on it.  The set list has wonderful pacing; mirroring the individual songs really, where generally there is a slow build up to a powerful crescendo.

Crowd favourite is still the ass kicking ‘Magnolia’ both because it is irresistibly danceable and because David always gets into the crowd – this time he has to climb over the crash barrier and instead of standing in the audience, he is lifted onto its shoulders and carried around the crowd before being carefully placed back over the barrier.  All this time he is still belting out the song, thanks to a wireless microphone.  I notice later a sign on the wall from the Institute forbidding crowd surfing and smile to myself.

The song before ‘Magnolia’, ‘Let Me Down Easy’, could easily take over as crowd favourite, as this is the point where the show really kicks into overdrive.  David puts down his guitar and struts around the stage with his Michael Jackson walk and pole dancer hip twists and thrusts.  He truly loses himself in the music and is annoyed when the crowd initially remains uncharacteristically motionless as the song begins; unhappy enough to stop the song and demand some ass shaking from the audience.  ‘Let Me Down Easy’ kicks in again and the room bounces.  How can you not?

Taking the place of the sorely missed ‘Knuckles White Dry’ from last year is the equally poignant and beautiful ‘Persevere’, written following the strength and positivity shown by David’s friend after the death of his child – the lyrics are stunning (“Because nothing tuned me in to absurdity as fast, as a gravestone with the name of a baby that has passed. I used to wanna be important, now I just wanna be alive and without fear. You got to persevere”).  This is not manipulative songwriting; it is truthful and about taking positives from the most hopeless situations.  Lyrically, David Le’aupepe strikes a fine balance between being overly sentimental and preachy.  It’s not an easy thing to do and I would argue he is the finest lyricist of this generation… by a country mile.

As if to prove that Gang Of Youths have moved from alternative rock to something bordering on stadium rock, worthy of bigger venues, the final run of songs including encores is just anthem after anthem – but kind of understated anthems that do not sound corny, despite initially looking like a slogan on a T shirt.  Sometimes someone has to say quite simply, say yes to life, and when it is belted out like it is tonight, you have to agree.  And this is all presented and introduced in a modest and almost matter of fact manner; indeed, when thanking the audience David makes it clear that they are just regular people doing their jobs, and they are no more important than the bus drivers or road sweepers or office workers of the world.  The difference is he says, they are wholly grateful for our support and for being allowed to fulfill their ambitions.

During the final choruses of ‘The Deepest Sighs, the Frankest Shadows’, the band backs down and David invites us to sing with him.  Considering the words are: “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”, the audience do a pretty good job of it and it makes the hairs stand up on my neck, realizing that this song has already embedded itself into our consciousness (and I did hear it correctly last year when I wondered if he was deliberately mis-quoting Milan Kundera).  Similarly is the outro to ‘Go Farther in Lightness’, our voices join with the band’s and there is a real connection, with heartfelt thanks from David before launching into the final song ‘Say Yes to Life’.  And if you are not screaming ‘Say yes’ by the end of the last verse, I’m afraid you must be dead inside.  Thankfully everyone in the room is well and truly alive.  If you take a close look at the images from the show, you can see the crowd is either transfixed or screaming along, but always absorbed.

If you have remained with me through this somewhat rambling love letter to the Gang of Youths, please support them because unless their record label puts some serious effort into advertising and promotion, it is up to word of mouth.  And if that fails, another great band will be dropped by a record company only interested in sales.  It amazes me when I see what other journalists have written about Gang of Youths and find very little on UK sites.  I find myself carrying a torch for Gang of Youths in this country and hope, like David, that the fire will not go out because this is a stunning band with a fantastic live show and beautiful songs.  Long may they continue to burn this brightly.

Set list:

1. Fear and Trembling

2. Atlas Drowned

3. The Heart Is a Muscle

4. Sjamboksa

5. Keep Me in the Open

6. Persevere

7. Let Me Down Easy

8. Magnolia

9. Vital Signs

10. What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out?

11. The Deepest Sighs, the Frankest Shadows

12. Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane

13.  Go Farther in Lightness

14.  Say Yes to Life


Review and Photographs: Alan Neilson

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