T’was a dark and rainy Thursday night in Melbourne, the crowd bumping and not bothered by the absolute downpour from above. 170 Russell, a favourite venue between musicians and fans alike, was lit with chandelier lights atop the stage and filling to capacity by the second. Another sold out show for Gang of Youths who had a 3-night set up, impressive for a band who released their most recent music a year ago. As the last tickets got scanned, beers clinked and the lights fell, first to hit the stage was Day Wave, followed by the breathtaking and everlasting Gang of Youths for our most magnetic show of the year so far.
Similar to many So-Cal bands, they were decked out with only Fenders and denim. Their sound was a reverb-drenched electric guitar with clicky percussion and harmonies. Playing Come Home Now was a hit, a real cruisey tune. To some degree, they seemed a little dispassionate, possibly because they have little familiarity down under, it was more work than play. Though the bass player had a grin on his face like he’d just learnt about sliced bread, somewhat distracting but notably funny. Stuck also went over a treat, a woozy indie anthem which started the audience’s dancing. Deadbeat Girl was the winner, whirling and feminine, a love song from a place of sadness. 7.45pm arrived quickly and the casual Cali boys thanked the crowd and disappeared side stage. A good opening act, they did their job and we wish them luck in their adventures.
Stage was set by 8pm, the drums on a platform with a side podium (turns out it was for Max Dunn, bassist and man-bun wearer) with the rest of the stage wide open. Fashionably 15 minutes late, the room grew dark again and the rag-tag gang rolled out. Joji Malani brought out his hometown Fijian flag, Jung Kim fiddled with buttons on his guitar/keyboard set up, Donnie Borzestowski ripped out his drumsticks and main man David Le’aupepe came bounding up to centre stage. Something to remember about Gang of Youths, they’re a collection of individuals; New Zealand, USA, Australia, Fiji and Samoan-Jewish heritage, they struck a chord that resonated with each other. Forget about friends from high school or band mates in a garage, they’d become brothers and the chemistry between them all was evident from the second they hit their first note.
Yet again the lighting and sound were flawless. High strobing effects throughout, pinpoint light beams and instruments balanced perfectly, not a single aspect left untouched. Lead singer David was flamboyant and outright, ruling the stage standing right on the edge or strumming a chord in Restraint and Release. Soon into the set, he seduced the crowd by removing his jacket and throwing it side stage, revealing a freshly glad-wrapped arm over a new tattoo of a Pit Bull and an umbrella inside of a beer bottle. He had an undeniable presence, a prowess like Michael Hutchence or Freddy Mercury who brought together both the band and the audience.
The crowd was a confusing bunch, what seemed to be a simple Thursday night audience was quickly realised as hardcore fans and passionate live music-goers. The young and old were bonded, these indie-rockers had cemented themselves with tunes that carried through with lyrics about death and suicide but also partying and love. A few more songs down, Poison Drum had everyone kicking and screaming for more, and the stage changed to a more “acoustic” style setup with a keyboard centre stage and chandelier’s brought down from above. The crowd was energetic from onstage antics but cooled down to Kansas. Inside jokes with David grooving to a half-cover of Outkast’s hit song Roses, the crowd singing along ‘Caroline … All the guys would say she’s mighty fine’ before beginning a heartfelt performance of a true Gang Of Youths song. Still without a single fault, this whole evening had made it to legendary status.
What we’ve coined ‘Fender Fiends’ to describe such a style, the atmosphere picked up again as the tight jean wearing dudes amped it up. Their sound is so distinctly raw, it’s punky and exotic, sexy guitar riffs from Joji and Jung was nailing every single note he hit on his keyboard. Max was happily pounding away at his bass and Donnie drumming away at his kicks, both difficult to see when hidden behind the smoked out stage and in the darkness but appreciated nevertheless. David was godlike, commanding the audience to clap or dance or scream and they followed him like keen sheep. He jumped off stage and yelled lyrics to Magnolia, running into the crowd with hands flailing in the air and everyone wanting a piece. Stood right in the middle of the room, belting out those lyrics like he could still feel the passion with which he’d written them for the first time, he was lifted up by the audience and crowd surfed back to the front. If this wasn’t a performer, then God knows who is.
Teaming with electricity and power, the Gang finished their set and the applause was defeating. The lights flashed to a solid white, all 5 band members embraced centre stage and graciously bowed, lapping it all up. For show 2 of 3 at 170 Russell, it was astonishing that they brought so much energy and passion to their show. From what could be seen, they’re the kind of band who knows that each show has their own treasure trove of hardcore fans, their one and only opportunity to see them live and they’d put on that same smiling face and cheeky banter each and every night, because they’re a band who KNOW what live performance means. They shook hands with the security guards, shook hands with the media in the photo pit, shook hands with the crowd and left stage. A few quick breaths, clapping still so loud that eardrums were bursting and they wandered back on stage for the encore.
Described on their Facebook page, “pseudo-tragic beautiful loser fatalism” is one way to capture Gang of Youths. They sing with gusto, play their instruments with sheer pristine and put on a real show. Some jovial dancing, David having a little shuffle and doing Beyonce’s famous Single Ladies routine while also smashing their hit song Radioface was delightful, a true testament to being a serious band with a sense of humour attached. Once again, wrapping up their guitar driven, drum filled, bass thumping, vocal keen hits and ending on a high with Vital Signs, a cult favourite. The night was a whipping memory, flashing strobes and loud guitar, David’s supremeness and crowds smiling and letting go, truly a night to remember. Fear not if you missed it, these unparalleled mad dogs will be back and they’ll be back with bells on.