Whether on stage or on record, Gang of Youths enthusiastically tackle life’s big questions with a stadium-sized sound and stage presence.

12/12/18 – Brighton Music Hall

A few seconds into the final chorus of a dense, 7+ minute rock ballad, Gang of Youths frontman David Le’aupepe raised a tattooed right arm over his head, his clenched fist pulsing open and closed with the rhythm of a heartbeat. “Do not let your heart be dismayed,” he urged, “it’s here by some random disclosure of grace / from some vascular, great thing.” The song, “Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane” was the centerpiece of an hour-long, Herculean set by the Australian rock band at Brighton Music Hall on Wednesday night, their second show in the US since they formed in 2012.

Gang of Youths are touring on the back of 2017’s Go Farther In Lightness, their mind-bogglingly ambitious sophomore record. While the band has been gaining popularity in Australia, Go Farther led to critical acclaim in the US, opening gigs at stadiums with Foo Fighters, and a stellar American late-night TV debut. All sixteen of the songs are informed by Le’aupepe’s well-documented and tumultuous personal life, and peppered with literary references from Heidegger, Camus, Shakespeare, and Ayn Rand (he’s not a fan), to name a few. He’s keenly aware that his band’s grandiose approach can be met with the eye roll emoji from some listeners and critics, but he’s annoyed by cynicism, both on record in “Fear and Trembling” (“While I have questions of mortality, the clear and present vast / They just yell the words ‘pretentious,’ ‘with no clarity or class’”) and in interviews, such as this one in 2017: “What I think is most authentic to me is I want to write lyrics that are meaningful to me, potentially meaningful to others, and sound beautiful… I just want to speak to people in a way that’s life affirming.”

Wednesday night’s show made good on that promise. Brighton Music Hall was full, not quite sold out, but the band still played the 476 capacity venue like it was Wembley Stadium. Le’aupepe is a proper rockstar, wailing on his guitar, flexing, and thrashing an unkempt black mane during “The Heart is A Muscle,” only to push it out of his face when he returned to the mic for a verse. He’s also invested in the crowd, extending the mic to encourage a singalong, jumping on the stereo system to survey everyone, sitting on the edge of the stage to banter in between songs, and finally, during “Magnolia”, running through the crowd and hugging as many people as he could along the way.

Musically, the beating heart of the band is drummer Donnie Borzestowsk, who did not let his energy slip the entire night, drumming with the ferocity that their lyrics demand. The rest of the band (Max Dunn, bass, Jung Kim, keyboards, and Joji Malani, guitar) were technically impressive, delivering the electric energy on the record without overpowering leap Le’aupepe’s oaken baritone. The band is fond of arena-sized arrangements, even on slower numbers like “Keep Me In The Open,” which recalls Bono’s more reflective, toned-town moments.

In one of many vulnerable moments of crowd banter throughout the night, he shared before “Heart is a Muscle” that his father passed away four months earlier, and dedicated the song to him. Later, during “Let Me Down Easy” he admitted that he’s “on the hunt for approval” that he has a “lust for attention” and even added that he hasn’t really begun the process of grieving his father. His extremely confessional style is challenging and inspirational in its complete sincerity, reminiscent of a youth group leader just as much as a rock lead.

While the band met in a Hillsong Church, the Gang of Youths are certainly no worship band. However, Le’aupepe’s own mannerisms borrow from an ecclesial playbook—leading singalongs of repeated phrases and mantras such as during “Go Farther in Lightness,” witnessing and sharing his own feelings in between songs, and lyrically choosing catharsis and total honesty over ironic detachment (see “What Can I Do If The Fire Goes Out”).

Pick a descriptor with the word “heart” in it, and it probably applies to Le’aupepe and company—big, warm, open-hearted, full of heart, heartening, the list goes on. In an era when bands and artists seem down and dejected, Le’aupepe’s fierce rebuke of nihilism and his “give it your all” performance style are refreshing, but they also demand their listeners to make the same Kierkegaardian “leap of faith” that he references explicitly in “Fear and Trembling”, named after one the philosopher’s most famous works. Do Gang of Youths really believe everything they’re saying? As Le’aupepe beat his chest and yelled affirmations (“Say yes to me! Say yes to love! Say yes to life!”) along with the crowd during “Say Yes To Life”, the answer couldn’t be more obvious.

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