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09th May 2018

Say yes to life: Gang Of Youths bring joy to Manchester

Matt Sayward

Gorilla, Manchester | 8th May 2018

In 2017, Gang Of Youths’ released their seminal opus Go Farther in Lightness, a record bleached in atmospherics, hard to place in time, and one of my favourite records of the year. Hailing from Sydney and with a decidedly small following in the UK, I thought it would be some time before I’d see them grace our shores. Thankfully, I was wrong.

I’m guilty of being a persistent overanalyser. I can let bad production ruin a good song for me. Frankly, on occasion I can let good production excuse a dreadful song. Go Farther in Lightness is fascinatingly engineered. The more time I spent with it, I couldn’t get away from one word in particular: hybrid.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a rock record that so effortlessly fused such a wide array of influences so cohesively. The first few tracks alone take you from Father John Misty to The Pogues to The Gaslight Anthem to The National to The War On Drugs to M83. By the time you reach the midpoint in Achilles Come Down, things have got all the way to back to Eleanor Rigby. Initially, I was impressed by the sheer craft of it. But there was always more here than structure. The songs are glorious. They’re invigorating. They’re uplifting. They’re essential.

When the day of the show came around and the band took the stage, I realised just how fully I had transitioned from an adolescence glued to MTV2 and P-Rock, when I’d discover all of my favourite new bands through music videos – I had no idea what these guys looked like. 

As it happens, singer and guitarist David Le’aupepe is himself a hybrid; Samoan-Jewish, with a face like a patchwork quilt of Robb Stark, Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You, Hugh Jackman, and the blueprint for the ideal human.

Set opener Fear and Trembling sees Le’aupepe run the vocal gamut all the way from a Matt Berninger baritone to a last-call Brian Fallon rallying cry. He’s got the grit of Springsteen and the soar of Bono. A friend and I exchange a look and a muttered breath.


More fool us for looking skin-deep and assuming a multi-octave range and a movie star face means that you must have it all. I came into the show blind but for the music, not knowing the stories of the songs. As early EP cut Magnolia is introduced, Le’aupepe recounts a botched suicide attempt, urging the room to talk to someone if they need to.

Between songs, there’s sincere calls for community, progressive values, and empathy, and then we’re back to a euphoric soundtrack. The songs on Go Farther reveal themselves as reasons to overcome. A marriage falling apart, ultimately leading to a wife lost to cancer. A baby, incomprehensibly taken. Parents, gone to time itself. The words, too often taken with them, now found.

It’s hard to see anything other than stardom in the future for this band, who are in the strange position of straddling the line between ‘plucky upstarts’ and ‘unknown’ around the globe whilst enjoying celebrity status at home in Australia, where they have a #1 record to their name and 4 ARIA wins from 8 nominations.

The prose is cerebral, the wordplay canny, the syllables many. A cynical take would be that a few less-wordy choruses would catapult them to the levels of triumph Kings of Leon enjoyed in the Only By the Night era.

But sustained success comes in many forms, and you don’t need to enjoy constant radio play to make arenas your home. So, in a world full of pundits, where questions like “Do you like this?” receive answers second-guessing how other people will react to something rather than what we thought ourselves, let’s agree not to ruin it.

The band close out the encore with Say Yes to Life. It’s as affirming as the title suggests. The room is comfortably full, but not sold out. It feels full of witnesses. Full of “I was there” claims for the present tense. It could be Springsteen in ’75. It could be U2 in ’82. True to form, it feels like a hybrid of both.

Listen to Go Further in Lightness on Apple Music

Listen to Go Further in Lightness on Spotify

Photos: Gemma Tomlinson