I’d forgotten how instantly recognisable Gang Of Youths’ frontman Dave Le'aupepe was until he emerged at The Tivoli Theatre in Brisbane (31 August).
Big start to the set with ‘What Can I Do If The Fire Goes Out?’, an already well-rotated track from 2017 record ‘Go Farther In Lightness’. The song sounds infinitely post-rock inspired, flickering guitar and a ‘fullness’ in the sound that can only really be replicated with a multiple-piece band.
“We’ve got another new one, is that okay?” the polite, preceding statement to ‘Keep Me In The Open’; vocals are the focal point here, lyrics dark, though poetic and storytelling.
Debut album ‘The Positions’ gem ‘Kansas’ was arranged quite differently to the recording, the ‘oohs’ one of the only comparable aspects though the live take was still beautiful.
The band quietly exited, all besides singer Le'aupepe who instead poised himself on his ivory companion. I’ve been angered in the past by audience members tongue-wagging between songs. But as Dave confessed his experience being wedded to a woman suffering from cancer, the room was as silent as a grave.
‘Knuckles White Dry’ tells the story of the car rides to and from hospital; an acoustic piano rendition so thick with emotion any chatter was either immediately shushed or swiftly ceased completely.
The heavy tension among the crowd was next cleverly converted into excited commotion as Gang Of Youths played another new record favourite, ‘Let Me Down Easy’; a stunner.
Surprisingly, ‘Magnolia’ reared its lovely head much earlier than expected; Le'aupepe acted as a conductor, quite literally directing his fan-made orchestra through two verses and multiple choruses of word-for-word reciting. There’s a reason why the song bloomed brighter than the flower in its title; it’s angsty, inspiring, smile provoking and universally relatable all at once.
The set slowed down with ‘Persevere’, Le'aupepe revealing the song’s origins inspired by a friend’s baby daughter passing. Though touching undeniably, sentiments started creeping into sob-story territory here; made me wonder whether it’s sometimes more worthwhile to simply let the music tell the tragedy.
‘The Heart Is A Muscle’ (uplifting) and ‘Vital Signs’ (heart-tugging) closed the set, though the open-ended finish left room for an encore.
Yes, the element of ‘surprise’ has been forever buried beneath to many predictable returns to the stage. But this particular comeback was magical, truly; even as an anti-encore activist, I was genuinely excited to hear what the band had to play.
The transition into ‘Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane’ was completely spellbinding; imagine a ‘spirit’, despite the concept being a little abstract and idealistic; Gang Of Youths have quite literally turned the interpretation into sound. Title track ‘Go Farther In Lightness’ next showcased before the set concluded with ‘Say Yes To Life’.
I pondered over the gig for hours after arriving home and knew immediately it would be tricky to summarise. They’re an interesting quintet, pieced together by five immensely different musicians, the kind of characters it’s hard to believe gravitated towards each other.
That’s not to say Gang Of Youths don’t mesh, nor is anyone even remotely lacking in skill; each are clearly talented and what’s more, each are clearly enthralled in their music. My eye was admittedly drawn to keyboardist/ guitarist Jung Kim most frequently, who, unsurprisingly, Le'aupepe acknowledged and thanked specifically during the set.
Dave Le'aupepe himself is a wonder, musical right down to his marrow and he obviously uses his gift as an emotional outlet. Often his lyrics are so melancholy it almost makes me feel uncomfortable; a lot of anger is channelled through his words, though fans have evidently responded remarkably well to the honesty.
It’s ambitious, absolutely as Le'aupepe quoted mid-set: "Don’t be cool, be courageous." Though there’s no denying Gang Of Youths aren’t lacking in either quality.
The band's national tour continues tonight (1 September) in Brisbane before further shows in: Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart, Adelaide and Fremantle.