Midway through the first verse of ‘Keep Me in the Open’, the fourth tune in Gang of Youths’ 13 song set, frontman, David Le’aupepe, suddenly halted the music. “I’m feeling a different vibe,” he informed us, likely in part due to a few overchatty audience members littering the soundscape. “I want to play a song that changed my life,” he continued, now that his unexpected set change had the entire crowd’s attention, “it’s written by a Canadian”. The hall, previously chatty, was silent, save for appreciative cheers, as he broke into a solo rendition of Joni Mitchell’s ‘A Case of You’.
“If you love someone, don’t let them treat you like shit,” he mused thoughtfully afterward – not in anger, or as a jab, but as an honest imparting of wisdom. Gang of Youth’s cathartic sophomore release, ‘Go Farther in Lightness’, was borne of self destruction, self doubt, and ultimately, self healing. As such, the decision to acknowledge and to change the less than ideal situation was especially fitting and powerful. This action created a dialogue between artist and crowd, and served as a turning point in the Australian quintet’s debut Canadian performance.
From the introspective ‘Persevere’, to the danceable ‘Let Me Down Easy’, to the high energy catharsis of ‘Magnolia’, the set was filled with self admitted “drastic change(s) of tone”. Despite these differences, it was tied together by an unapologetic and unguarded rawness of emotion, whose power was all the more amplified by the communal nature of the concert experience.
Standout performances included ‘Magnolia’, ‘What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out’, and ‘The Deepest Sighs, the Frankest Shadows’, whose emotional intensity truly shone through. Like their sophomore album, their set was bookended by the triumphant ‘Say Yes To Life’, during which the solo from Queen’s ‘We Are The Champions’ was fittingly meshed in.
“This defies every expectation… we thought 30 people would show up,” Le’aupepe exclaimed, as he looked the sold out audience in the eye admiringly. An ambitious schedule, including six performances at SXSW, had an apologetic Le’aupepe plagued by a throat infection. However, what the performance may have slightly lacked in technical perfection, it more than made up for in passion, catharsis, community, and that beautiful, intangible feeling that makes live music so special.