Last year Gang Of Youths released one of the most well-rounded, well-structured, and most unique sounding albums of the year with Go Farther In Lightness. This record has already brought them great success, allowing them to support massive bands such as the Foo Fighters, as well as headlining their own tours through the US and the UK. They have now finally returned home to Australia for their first proper home tour of 2018, and I was thrilled to be able to attend one of the seven (SOLD OUT!) shows they are putting on at The Forum, Melbourne.
As I stepped into The Forum it was already substantially full, with people swarming in in droves to secure themselves a decent spot. This was after lining up all the way up Hosier Lane, mind you. Opening the show, and holding the all-important spot as the only support for the night, was Tamworth-raised Charlie Collins. Joined by three other band members on stage, her silky smooth vocals took hold and wrapped us all in a tight embrace. Groovy additions of bass and guitar added a bit of funk to the otherwise smooth act, keeping everyone’s toes tapping and their knees bouncing as the set went on.
The soft gentle nature of the vocals and the smoothness of the instrumental tones could’ve rocked me to sleep, like an alternatively funk based lullaby. Harmonious dreamlike music continued to float through the room, not forcing itself down your throat but making you pay attention. The harp-like guitars and pleasant delicate drums were overpowering at times, but were matched comfortably by Charlie herself whipping out a harmonica, and sending some phat mouth organ riffs our way.
Throughout the set Charlie shared several stories behind the writing of her songs, and it was intriguing hearing all the little anecdotes and inspirations behind her songs, such as “I wrote this when I was having a shit time”. Towards the end of the set you could notice when the songs seemed to mean more to her, when the passion in her voice rose, and the intensity of her delivery and her playing got rockier and louder. This got her a great deal of applause from an already packed Forum, and understandably planted an enormous smile on her face as she finished off her set in big enthusiastic fashion.
Ominous electric blue fog immersed the station in blurriness as the members of Gang Of Youths stepped onto stage to a ridiculously buzzing reception. They emerged as if they had just arrived from heaven itself, and kicked off their set with a stunning performance of “Fear and Trembling”. Immediately the stunningly mesmerising vocals of David Le’aupepe had a hold over the room, as his deep and dense voice prompted incredible crowd participation in the form of deafening singalongs. Following up with “What Can I Do If The Fire Goes Out”, their obvious enjoyment and passion for their own music shone through. They banged their heads, moved their hips, and boogied all around the stage as their tight alternative instrumental combinations wooed and seduced the audience, and we were in the palms of their hands.
Electric guitar shredded while acoustic guitar ripped, alongside the enthusiastic and heavy drums. Piano and keyboard kept everything grounded and harmonious, and was an integral part of the almighty atmosphere that Gang Of Youths maintained throughout their whole set. Another element of this was the production. Lights glared down from the stage, casting amazing shadows of the band members and flashing in and out of life in time with their instrumentals.
“Atlas Drowned” and “Keep Me In The Open” kept the love in the air and the passion on the stage, with the band drowning in affection from the audience at this stage. David had to take a second between songs to take it all in, before pre-empting “Don’t Let The Spirit Wane” with some inspiration: “This song is about not wasting your life, and not letting the demons get to you.” As they played the song, the gentleness of it soothed the crowd. Like a powerful sedative, it settled them down and allowed them to simply sway along with the harmonious chimes of the music, as well as sing along with David’s euphoric vocals.
After this, David relocated himself to the piano while the rest of the band left stage, and played through “Go Farther In Lightness”, “Persevere”, and “Riverlands”, as well as a cover of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”. Each song he played oozed emotion, and as he went through them it was overwhelmingly evident how special this was to him, verbalising it as “This is the best job on the planet”. The crowd singing hit its peak during this section, and over two thousand voices echoed through The Forum in perfect unison with David. As he discussed anxiety and mental illness, David described this show as “my group therapy”, and also mentioned how nervous he was. Incredibly humanised and seemingly down-to-earth, his pre-“Persevere” speech about the importance of resilience was near terk-jerking. As he finished up “Riverlands”, he revealed that that was the first time they have played that song in nearly five years, and took a second to ask the audience if they were okay, before the rest of the band reentered the stage to continue the set together.
Mentioning his father’s recent passing, he dedicated the next song to him with emotional passion. “The Heart Is A Muscle” kicked in with ridiculously intense lights and power, and sent everyone in the room into full dancing mode. On the floor and up in the stands, young and old, everyone moved and grooved as if their lives depended on it. The sight of this produced smiles from every member of the band, and it was clear they were enjoying the show just as much as we were. Rocking out and unleashing, they continued to burst with energy as they ended the song in huge fashion.
Next came my personal favourite of theirs, “Let Me Down Easy”, and clearly I wasn’t the only one who had this opinion. This was David’s chance to let loose, and seemed to be loving himself in a big way as his bounced and grooved his way around the stage. The crowd did the same, cooperating enthusiastically with one of the bouncier and more danceable songs of the set. But nothing they could do could keep up with David, as he shook his booty and hips all over the place. He jumped up onto the piano and pulled out his best pose. Essentially any silliness that needed to be unleashed, was done so during this song.
The insanely popular and slightly older “Magnolia” prompted David to be extra-adventurous, and he ventured down to the barrier, and even went for a quick crowd surf. Of course he continued to nail his vocals as he did so, and was held up flawlessly by all floor crowd members, as if the rocky grindy guitars of “Magnolia” were pumping adrenaline through them. “We’re gonna go, Melbourne!”, said David as they prepared to launch into “The Deepest Sighs, The Frankest Shadows.” Before that though, David mentioned the importance of chasing dreams, and how the pursuit, no matter how hard it is, is always worth the dream. From the start to the end of this song I think every hand possessed in the room was in the air. The crowd flailed around and sung as loud as their lungs would allow them, and the set could have ended here and everyone would have gone home happy, as Gang of Youths left the stage. (Several people actually did leave!?)
Several minutes of ridiculously loud, rumbling cheering and applause ensued, and after all of this crazy noise, Gang of Youths were greeted back on stage with raucous enthusiasm. Atmospheric guitar and impacting drums made for quite the re-entry, as they picked up right where they left off, playing through “Still Unbeaten Life”, and “Vital Signs”. Vibes were about to blow the roof off The Forum, and I felt like I was wrapped up in a cosy blanket of music and love. They finally closed the night with “Say Yes To Life”, and then stood in pure awe of what they had just achieved. They linked arms and bowed, and saluted the crowd as they parted ways.
What a band! What a show! There’s an intensity and care that goes into Gang Of Youths’ music, and this set made me an even bigger fan of Gang Of Youths.
[Photos by Albert Lamontagne]