After a run of sold out international shows Gang of Youths are back and a force to be reckoned with, sweeping across Australia this month with a National Tour in celebration of their latest album release “Go Farther In Lightness”, which is out now across Australia and the United States, with release in Europe and the United Kingdom due for October 13th. Vocalist David Le’aupepe has previously described the record as his “healing record”; drawing inspiration from direct personal experiences, it explores heavy themes such as suicide, grief of loss and divorce. Gang of Youths emerge from the ashes of a long hard road out of hell with this record. Thanks to Live Nation, they graced Melbourne’s Festival Hall this past Wednesday, after first stopping in Brisbane for two prior sold out shows.
Opening the night around 7:40pm we had Fountaineer, an indie rock band from Bendigo. Punters were scattered across the seated areas nice and early, with a good portion of the pit area already containing a decent sized crowd. Drummer Francis White held a maraca and drumstick in one hand simultaneously as he drummed through the set, maintaining a solid grasp on both for the duration. Vocalist Anthony White addressed the crowd saying “the town we’re singing about is Bendigo…any of you folks from Bendigo? We’ll meet at Maccas around midnight” which stirred some positive reactions. Their sound was soothing, melodic and ambient; with soft dissonant cymbal crashes at points from the use of mallets, as well as synth components. White informed the crowd that he’d “just seen the Gang of Youths set list and you’re in for a treat” before continuing on to note that they had played with Gang of Youths before in Bendigo, and they had been lovely and supportive towards them. Their set concluded with a track called “Hinges On” from their latest record release “Greater City, Greater Love”. The band saluted the crowd before exiting the stage whilst an intriguing outro track played repeating the line “I pushed myself up and leaned back against the fountain”.
Around 8:30pm Sydney songstress Gordi and her band took to the stage, playing tracks from her new record titled “Reservoir”. Her fascinating sound embodies components of vocal distortions, synths, keys, and acoustic guitar. She made interesting use of a looping machine to sample her own voice for a track by the name of “Heaven I Know”. She has a rich depth in the tone of her voice, bringing to mind the likes of Cher and Tracy Chapman. Other tracks included “Wanting”, “Bitter End” and “On My Side”. At one point she shared a comical story of “sneaking into a Gang of Youths concert in Brisbane” by telling the door staff she was a guest vocalist and needed to get inside, which they believed. “But you should always pay for your tickets, moral of the story” Gordi followed up with. She also took a humble moment to note “Melbourne’s my favourite place to play; this is my biggest crowd so far, so thank you”.
As the crowd patiently and eagerly waited for Gang of Youths to appear, a backdrop display emerged with 3 Aboriginal flags and the following message:
“GANG OF YOUTHS WOULD LIKE TO ACKNOWLEDGE THE TRADITIONAL CUSTODIANS OF THE LAND ON WHICH WE ARE GATHERED AND ON WHICH WE ARE PERFORMING
WE ACKNOWLEDGE THAT SOVEREIGNTY WAS NEVER CEDED; THIS ALWAYS WAS AND ALWAYS WILL BE ABORIGINAL LAND”
Moments later 9:45pm saw the lights fade to black with a flash of the bands heart line logo, followed by imagery of luminous yellow dots sprouting like branches of blossoms as the crowd erupted upon the band taking their place onstage. With a vibrant burst of frantic red and yellow lights, the set kicked off with an equally frantic performance of “What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out”, and rest assured; the fire was only just getting started. Resonant guitar whirrs soared through the building as the band made themselves at home with a jovial presence that instantly rippled throughout the dancing crowd. Moving into “Atlas Drowned” David Le’aupepe wasted no time in working the crowd as he strut to the far corners of the stage to show some love for the fans situated off to the sides of the pit, which he continued to do throughout the entire set. The enthused crowd sparked into fist pumps and clap chanting, whilst drummer Donnie Borzestowski proceeded to make his own mark in connection with fans as he infused his skillful beats head-banging and gestures towards the crowd with his drumsticks; all the while maintaining consistent focus in an impressive display of talent and showmanship for the duration of the bands set.
Le’aupepe took a moment to address the crowd, informing them “we are Gang of Youths from Sydney. 3 years ago we played here supporting Vampire Weekend and nobody gave a shit, so thank you for giving a shit tonight my friends”, which sparked cheers and whistles of support. A magenta spotlight shone down on Le’aupepe followed by colourful bursts of lights to punctuate riffs and pounds as they continued on into a fiery performance of “Fear and Trembling”; moving the crowd to ‘feel it all’ in appropriation with the lyrics. At one point guitarist Joji Malani got in on the crowd interaction, holding up his instrument to give it a kiss. The stage dimmed to an amber glow with a return of more luminous patterns on the backdrop screen as they moved into the track “Sjamboksa” (The Positions LP, 2015) which saw the crowd break out into more clapping as Le’aupepe span across the stage energetically and reached powerful chill-provoking and wrenching vocal delivery, particularly of the word “try”. The crowd was addressed once again with “Melbourne we love you, this is the best city in Australia for live music”, before diving into “Keep Me In The Open” amidst a teal and purple stage aura which saw the screen shift into rippling greyscale patterns as the song built in Jung Kim‘s twinkling keyboard melodics and emotive tension of yearning and desperation, then bursting into final euphoric highs of the lyric “I deserve better than this”.
Returning again to works from ‘The Positions’, the stage faded to a deep red haze atop blue floor lights accompanied by a twinkling star backdrop and spotlight over Le’aupepe; simmering down the atmosphere as he sat at a keyboard for “Kansas”. Members of the audience waved lighters in the air softly along with the sombre melodics and chimed in to sing along to the lyric “we’re not in Kansas anymore” as Kim and Malani became silhouettes amidst a cyan glow. Le’aupepe paused once again to connect with the audience, noting “we’re headliners now, it’s so fuckin’ cool to be here, there’s no better time to be in this band”. This was followed by a confronting and frank recount of being young and married to a wife whom was sadly diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. He shared experiences of attending the treatment clinic, and the heavy reality of it all hitting in the car ride on the way home, which is what the following track “Knuckles White Dry” is about. He also informed the crowd of her passing, and having found out after being out of touch for a couple of years. Members of the crowd responded to this by shouting out “WE LOVE YOU”, which was met with a heartfelt “I love you too, you have no idea how much I mean that” from Le’aupepe. Needless to say his performance of the song was emotional, touching and impactful. Leading on from this, violins wailed into a drum beat before Le’aupepe went on to lighten the mood; charismatically breaking into sassy and suave dance moves; effortlessly charming the crowd who excitedly cheered and whistled as he flaunted his way through “Let Me Down Easy”. The crowd activity reached a highlight, with people singing and having a boogie whilst propped up on their friends shoulders.
Next up was the hit and fan favourite “Magnolia”, which most would have anticipated making an appearance on the set list. Cheers erupted at the recognition as the mystical string intro section of the song chimed. Le’aupepe continued to charm the audience with a sassy shake of the ass in accordance with the lyrics. He then went on to get amongst the mosh pit, singing whilst crowd surfing which sparked due excitement from the crowd, before graciously asking the crowd if everyone was okay upon returning to the stage. Pressing on, he gave an inspiring speech about critics, cynicism and not letting anybody tear you down for your vulnerability, which moved into a climactic performance of “The Deepest Sighs, the Frankest Shadows”. The bands delivery was powerful, moving and passionate; provoking further singing from the crowd. The mood returned to emotional as “Persevere” was introduced as being about a peer whom had lost a baby boy 2 years ago, and “a conversation with him that changed my life”. Things picked up again with “Radioface” and it’s anthemic, uplifting chorus about being infinite. Le’aupepe moved to the stage’s edge commanding the audience with gestures to step it up further. As the night drew nearer to a close the atmosphere continued along a euphoric path with the band keeping up their lively energetic pace. Bassist Max Dunn would face Borzestowski in interaction, as was seen repeatedly throughout the set. “The Heart Is a Muscle” broke into a celebratory wave of strength, with punctuating chest pounds and muscle flexes from Le’aupepe as he belted out the impactful words “the heart is a muscle, and I wanna make it strong”. Rounding things off he noted “we are Gang of Youths from Sydney, this is our last song. Melbourne we love you, we love you, we fucking love you. We were never meant to survive, we were never meant to be here. Thank you…thank you…thank you” before concluding with the track “Vital Signs”.
The band had barely exited the stage before the crowd commenced encoring for one more song. Much to their excitement a spiral began to swirl on the screen in the blackened room before eventually the stage illuminated enough for the band to emerge in the form of silhouettes. They went on to treat fans with not one, but 3 more songs; starting with “Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane” and moving into “Go Farther In Lightness” which sparked a further sing-along. In final conclusion fans were bid farewell with the impassioned track “Say Yes To Life” and the poignant message it conveys. The crowd elated into a standing ovation as the song ended, which was met by heartfelt gestures of appreciation for the band, who took their time leaving the stage to soak in the moment.
The wholesome 2 hour set embarked the band and fans alike upon an explorative journey of human nature; dancing through emotional highs and lows of meditations on life, love, loss, turmoil and endurance. Gang of Youths bare their scars and triumphs with deep sincerity, raw honesty, and uncompromisingly fierce determination that is nothing short of awe inspiring. They have blossomed personal battles into art; sharing their cathartic endeavours with anyone who should take the time to hear what they have to say. Having witnessed the crowd reception, I can say with confidence that the people are listening. Something about the genuine and humble nature of this band speaks to people. Maybe it’s the uplifting essence of their musicianship. Maybe it’s the inspirational value in seeing someone bold enough to articulate the beauty and ugliness of human experience. Maybe it’s passion, motivation, or simply connecting to a feeling. Whatever it is, the ability to get up on a stage and breathe such life into a crowd of people through such raw pain and vulnerability is truly a gift that transcends talent.