Sunday night, I stood in the 300-cap Moroccan Lounge for the first of two sold-out Gang of Youths shows at the DTLA venue. Amongst me were a swarm of Aussies who couldn’t believe they were getting to see their homeland favorites in such a cozy space. One told me that this is a band that sells thousands of tickets back home, and after seeing them play, it was easy to believe.
It felt as though Gang of Youths frontman Dave Leaupepe had something to prove. He made note of how surprised he was they filled the room, that previous LA gigs were not packed like this one.
Ignoring the posted setlist, Leaupepe and his band jumped right into the anthemic “What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out?”, kicking things into high gear with the Springsteen meets The Killers track. They kept the tempo going with the foot-stomping “The Heart is a Muscle”, easily one of the favorites of the crowd.
I had been receiving e-mails about Gang of Youths for weeks and finally dove into their latest album, last year’s Go Farther in Lightness. It was that set opening track that got my attention, and as I listened to more and more of the album, I was immediately hooked. This was basically the album I had wished Catfish and the Bottlemen made on their second record — full of catchy hooks and meaningful lyrics that immediately get stuck in your brain.
Leaupepe is quite the frontman with an unbridled charisma that transferred into the crowd immediately. It was quite the opposite from what a friend had told me of seeing the band in LA several years ago, and Leaupepe actually alluded to that. After playing “Keep Me In The Open”, where Leaupepe’s deep vocals resemble those of The National frontman Matt Berninger, Leaupepe asked if anyone in the crowd had seen the band a few years ago. “You must’ve saw us when we were shit, I was fat,” Leaupepe said, and the crowd laughed.
They were the furthest thing from shit Sunday night. Leaupepe got deep by going into the story behind “Persevere”, a song about a friend who lost a baby eight-and-a-half months into a pregnancy and the conversation Leaupepe had with his friend’s father in a car ride. It’s a beautiful and moving track that the LA crowd quieted for.
He looked into the eyes of individuals in the crowd as he shouted lyrics, grabbed them by shoulders, imploring them to match his energy level. For “Let Me Down Easy” he forced the crowd to dance, and when their energy wasn’t where he wanted it, he started the song over.
The rest of the band really impressed me to. Lead guitarist Joji Malani had some sick solos, and Jung Kim on keyboards really added some depth to many of the tracks. Max Dunn on bass and Donnie Borzestowski on drums rounded things out.
The biggest singalong came on “The Deepest Sighs, the Frankest Shadows” as the crowd shouted “Not everything means something, honey” along with Leaupepe. They followed that song up with the melancholy tune “Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane”, a favorite of mine from the record that features a “Sweet Child O’ Mine” melody lingering in the background. On the album, it’s preceded by a beautiful strings arrangement that closely resembles the Guns N Roses track that gave me goosebumps the first time I heard it.
By the time they wrapped up their set, I was a Gang of Youths believer. This is a band that has massive potential, and Leaupepe has the necessary frontman chops to scale these performances to venues 10 times the size of the Moroccan Lounge. It’s about time we catch up to what the Aussies already know — these guys fucking rock.
Photos by Tim Aarons