Some feelings I felt watching Gang Of Youths with 4000 other people at Freo Arts Centre
Australia's biggest band cement their status at the top of the tree.
All photos by Perry McLaughlan.
Are Gang Of Youths the biggest band in Australia right now? As they run around the country playing quite comfortably their biggest tour yet (2 sold out Fremantle Arts Centre shows, 8! sold out Melbourne Forum shows), there's really no evidence to suggest otherwise. They were handpicked to revive MTV's much-loved Unplugged series, they wiped the floor with The Black Eyed Peas at the NRL Grand Final (c'mon AFL, just book some contemporary Aussie acts ffs), and once this tour wraps up they'll be taking headline honours at next year's St Jerome's Laneway Festival.
All of this on the back of their world-conquering sophomore album from last year, Go Farther In Lightness, that saw three tracks poll in the top 10 of the triple Hottest 100. Oh and not to mention they were tapped by a little band called Foo Fighters to join them on tour in the US and play Foo Fighters' own festival Cal Jam.
So yeah, it's fair to say David Le'aupepe and his lovable band of genuinely great blokes are on top of the world at the moment. It's a refreshing case of nice guys finishing first, and that alone is probably another strong case for why we as a nation have embraced them in a warm, loving grip normally reserved for our nearest and dearest.
And so it was a chilly Sunday night I found myself parked on the hill at Fremantle Arts Centre (one of this state's best open air venues), sipping on a couple of cool beverages ready to find out for myself what the fuss was all about. And here's some feelings I felt while doing that:
Charlie Collins was a great support choice
Charlie Collins is a Tamworth-based who I'd hazard a fair chunk of the already-quite-large crowd that had gathered early in the night didn't really know much about. But that's the joy of support acts, especially when they're playing before the biggest band in the country right now. I don't pretend to know what the relationship between Charlie and Gang Of Youths was before this tour, but it's awesome when a band of GOY's stature selects a much-lesser known artist to open shows. It just screams, "Hey, you might not know this band, but we reckon they're fucking great, and you might like them too." I don't want to make a big fuss about it but the fact she's a woman just doubles down on this - we talk about getting girls to the front, and there's no better use of your power than to invite an emerging young artist you believe in to jump on a tour as huge as this.
And all of that rambling notwithstanding, Charlie Collins rips! With a sound I'm going to lovingly call indie-country, the gentler moments balanced well with some stomping rock'n'roll numbers, all showcasing an artist who had no issues with a big stage even though she's a barely a year into her career.
Freo Arts Centre is a ripper venue, just get in early for your drinks
I love a show at Freo Arts Centre as much as the next punter, but make sure you plan around avoiding the bar for at least an hour before the headliner starts. When your hosting crowds pushing up towards the 4000 mark, it seems insane to have such a small bar catering to them. Someone explained to me why it's like it is and has always been that way (apologies that reasoning escapes me at this juncture), so in lieu of any change there just be smart about it. And besides, anything that forces you to get down to a show early and actually cop the supports is only a good thing as far as I'm concerned.
Gang Of Youths know where your heart strings are...
...and will pluck them from the get go. Kicking off with the acoustic-fuelled Fear And Trembling, the stage was set early for some emotional indie-rock'n'roll. Gang Of Youths are often compared to The National, and while it's fair to some degree, it's also kinda lazy. Just 'cause rock'n'roll makes you feel something, doesn't mean it's the same as the godfathers of sad indie.
Donnie Borzestowski is a beast
Perhaps it's the old drummer in me, but while the much of the attention on Gang Of Youths understandably centres around their charismatic frontman, it's a band very much of a sum of its parts, and drummer Borzestowski gets it fucking done. Long hair flying all over the shop, it's hard not get swept up on the emotion of it all when you lovingly stare at him pounding away on the skins. There's nothing extravagant about it, there's no backslapping drum solo epics, just a good honest rhythm section that keeps you locked in from the get-go.
Sometimes it's nice to ditch the bells and whistles
And speaking of good and honest, there was something definitely endearing about the meat and potatoes style of the Gang Of Youths live show. Just the band and a decent - but not OTT - lighting rig helped keep the show feeling inimate even as it played out in front of a few thousand people. At a time when artists are putting all their energy into THE FUCKING MOST INSANE AND EXCITING LIVE MUSIC EXPERIENCE OF YOUR ENTIRE FUCKING LIVES, there was an earnestness and simplicity on stage that felt very right. Although, to contradict myself...
Gang Of Youths aren't quite stadium ready just yet
Perhaps it was my hangover, or the fact this was the Sunday show and not a Saturday night show, but there was just a little bit of oomph lacking in the overall vibe. The band's plethora of soaring indie-rock anthems definitely maintained energy throughout, and the softer moments (the fake piano bit was gold) strewn amongst the set definitely kept some balance, but it felt like maintaining the crowd's full attention over the full two-hour journey was just a smidge out of reach for the group. The encore lacked a little something, and while finishing with Say Yes To Life was an inspired note to leave on, perhaps saving one of their bigger hits for the encore might have left things on an even higher note (of course no one buys it when you don't play your biggest hits in the main set only to trot it out for the encore, so take my suggestion with the huge grain of salt it deserves).
I can see this being no problem in 2K-cap venues like The Forum in Melbourne, but filling the wide expanses of a huge open air venue like Freo Arts Centre for two hours with only two albums under your belt is a tall ask no matter how great you are.
The power of Le'aupepe basically nullifies any of my bad points anyway
Forget clean coal Scott "Can you believe I call myself ScoMo" Morrison, the only fair dinkum power that truly exists in Australia is that which exudes from Gang Of Youths' beloved frontman, David Le'aupepe. Affable, charming, emotional, funny, self-deprecating, a little nervous, a lot of sexy... In 20 years time when we look back on Australia's greatest music frontpersons there's no way in hell he won't sit comfortably alongside the likes of Michaal Hutchence, Tim Rogers, Bon Scott and Chrissy Amphlett as one of the GOATs.
He seemed to grow into the show as it went on, feeling almost awkward to begin with, before a touching tribute to his recently deceased father seemed to give him the freedom to truly unleash. A captivating performance and a captivating band, one that's only going to continue to grow in stature as their back catalogue gets even stronger, and they grow into the Australian rock'n'roll gods they are so clearly destined to become.
Head to the Gang Of Youths WEBSITE for info on their remaining tour dates.