-By Luke Keatinge
Still riding the high of their 2014 breakthrough debut album The Positions, Gang of Youths set out on another national tour this month before soon heading overseas to Europe and the US. After playing their three Perth shows across 2015 in intimate bars like Jimmy’s Den, Mojos and the Newport Hotel, the Sydney alt-rock outfit were back in Perth this past weekend with a sold out show at the Astor theatre. Surely a combination of increasing buzz, their sweep of the 2015 ARIA nominations and public commendation for their incredible live shows (The AU Review named them 2015’s ‘Live Act of the Year’), this drastic upscale in venue in such a short time shows just how beloved they’ve become. And deservedly so, because Gang of Youths remained one of the fiercest live acts around.
With support from Californian band Day Wave, as well as Perth’s own Triple J-Unearthed High winners Mosquito Coast, the Saturday night was shaping up to be a pretty exciting night of independent music. When Gang of Youths finally bounced on stage for the main set, they were met with an eruption of applause from both levels of the theatre. The five piece – consisting of guitarist Joji Malani, bassist Max Dunn, drummer Donnie Borzestowski, guitarist and keys Jung Kim, and vocalist and guitarist Dave Le’aupepe – opened the set with Rocky II, a new track that matched the intensity of the band’s previous hits and set the standard for the night very high.
What followed was an energetic showcase of the group’s talent and repertoire of showstoppers that had the crowd singing along to almost every track. I say almost, because there were a surprising number of new, unheard songs scattered throughout the night that were previews of an upcoming EP. While these new tracks were welcome additions to the set list, the group’s big tunes were still the crowd favourites. Restraint and Release, Poison Drum and Benevolence Riots were huge standouts; staples of the band’s wonderfully raw and minimal indie-rock sound. While the crowd was notably pretty dull and lackluster given the intensity of what was happening on stage, this didn’t bring the night down. The band kept the energy up, and Le’aupepe’s on-stage antics remained a constant highlight throughout the set, with his constant faces at the crowd, swaying and dancing making him an entertaining presence.
The high energy and intensity of the big songs were balanced with some beautifully vulnerable solo performances from Le’aupepe on keys. Two transfixing back-to-back renditions of Kansas and Knuckles White Dry captivated the room, taking the night to a deeply emotional, heartbreaking place and leaving the crowd in stunned silence. These songs were a rich representation of not only Le’aupepe’s deeply unique and commanding voice, but of the band’s versatility as they seamlessly transitioned from loud, anthemic rock into stripped back vocal-driven numbers.
The main set came to an end with the glorious Magnolia. What do I even say about this one? Coming in at #21 in last year’s Hottest 100, this is definitely one of their most renowned songs as well as a personal favourite. The infectiously catchy track builds to a thrilling final chorus where front man Le’aupepe traditionally (in my experience of seeing them) jumps in the crowd to dance among the fans. This was something I was certain I wouldn’t see at Astor, given the size of the venue and the clear divide between band and crowd. But I was so happy to be wrong. Le’aupepe did his signature crowd run during Magnolia’s climax – one of several times he physically engaged with the crowd – running around the barrier and making his way through the entire audience. I can’t commend him enough for this; I really feared they would lose the intimacy and embrace that I experienced at their previous shows with this move to the bigger theatre, and while they inevitably did in some respects, they did everything they could to keep that connection there.
The gang came back for a final encore, including Strange Diseases and crowd-favourite Radioface, before finishing off with the huge Vital Signs – a song that’s emotional highs and lows are a journey in its own. The energy of the night was sustained until the final notes of the encore, ending a relentlessly ferocious set with their most cinematic and powerful arrangement – guitars, drums and vocals all soaring for the final rise and fall of Vital Signs. With a final bow, Gang of Youths left the stage to massive applause.
Rarely do you see a band perform with as much passion and ferocity, as well as genuine humility and gratitude as Gang of Youths. Le’aupepe couldn’t thank the crowd enough for “giving a shit about their music”, and the band’s open appreciation of their fans was pretty endearing to see. These guys are such a talented outfit with a really powerful sound, and the infinitely charismatic Le’aupepe is surely one of the greatest Aussie front men today. What I love most about Gang of Youths is how deeply personal and intimate their songs are, and how they don’t shy away from this, but wear it proudly. Le’aupepe talks openly on stage about how The Positions is an album about his ex-wife’s battle with melanoma and the demise of their relationship, and the pain, humanity and heart embedded in their music is what fuels their explosive live shows.
After their previous smaller scale Perth dates, Gang of Youths’ transition from dive bar to theatre was a natural one, with the high energy of their indie-rock jams well at home on the big stage. These guys truly love what they do and they love their fans, and this passion is what makes them such an exciting band to watch.
Photo Credit: Gang Of Youths