Sydney band Gang of Youths surprised fans with a secret hometown show last week. Caitlyn Hurley was one of the lucky fans to attend.
Announcing the free gig at Newtown Social Club via Facebook at midday, fans had just a few hours to plan their night once the news filtered through. The performance followed the band’s release of their new EP Let Me Be Clear and was part of a series of “secret shows”, where crucial details were released to members on the mailing list on the day of the gigs in Melbourne and Sydney.
Gang of Youths have come from humble beginnings, playing to groups of 30 in small venues across Australia only four years ago. Today they attract thousands. Earlier this year they played at Splendour in the Grass after a sold-out tour, with fans scrambling for tickets to see their favourite indie rock ballads performed live.
Teasers for this week’s small-scale shows were scattered around social media, with the band posting hints a week before each show, leaving out dates or venue details. I, among so many of their fans, was left wondering if I would be lucky enough to see them perform. But as soon as the Facebook alert came through I thought I’d try my luck.
With limited places available, groups were let in on a “first-come-first-served” basis, much to a few eager fans’ dismay, who had jumped on trains from as far as Newcastle to make it in time. Sadly, the venue fits only 300 and was packed out early, bodies stuffed inside shoulder to shoulder, while many brokenhearted fans waited outside, hoping for someone to shuffle out and make room for more. As I wandered upstairs with the crowd murmuring excitedly around me, the room filled quickly, with most choosing to get as close to the stage as possible. Lovers dangled their limbs over one another’s shoulders, gently swaying to the pre-recorded indie rock playlist. I waited patiently and chatted with a couple of heavily tattooed local girls; one mentioned the band had decided to first play a couple songs downstairs, so as not to disappoint fans who would miss the main show.
I knew the three-hour wait was well worth it when Dave Le’aupepe’s gravelly voice trickled through the audience, growing slowly intoxicated on the energy in the room, but that may have been partly due to the rich warm mulled wine I was slowly sipping at the beginning of the set. As soon as the band walked onto the stage, it was on. They slipped effortlessly into the first song. Dave danced with reckless abandon while the crowd fed off his electric energy, thick black curls whipping back and forth as the band played on, strong and confident.
The band chose to play a mix of their old and new work, much to fans’ delight, including a hit favourite “Poison Drum”, where the crowd matched the band’s fervour, screaming the lyrics “I’m not afraid” into the thick mosh pit air, filled with fresh optimism and sweat. The previous album explores the intensity of Dave’s first marriage which didn’t last. In between songs Dave explains, “I’m scared I’ll never be able to love someone the same, or as much as I loved her” before introducing the next song. He mentions it was written about the girl “Positions” was based on, a new song which had yet to be played for a live audience. The band’s lyrics have a beautiful way of finding the extraordinary within the ordinary; they speak of heartbreak, and push listeners to become fearless in the face of great adversity – a message the band intends to spread though their music.
After playing a couple of their more popular upbeat tracks, Dave moved to the piano and the crowd was invited to “just breathe in with me, and breathe out”. The casual banter between songs felt earnest, like a chat with a friend you have known for a long time. Dave’s charismatic and charming yet down-to-earth stage presence is magnetic; he will draw in an entire crowd while addressing bigger issues, something I believe most modern-day ARIA chart artists seem to be lacking. The band’s ability to jump between boisterous loud and upbeat tracks to their softer more stripped-back versions was impressive.
One of the evening’s highlights was the band playing “Magnolia” close to the end of the set. Only a few chords in the crowd responded with deafening screams of approval. The story behind the song is raw and emotionally charged, truthful and uplifting. Dave, who is the sole lyricist for the band, confronts and describes his suicide attempt in the song, singing, “I’m staggering home, show me the way, show me the light, hey, I’m drunk, but I’m ready to kick some ass tonight”.
Dave’s enthusiasm matched that of the audience, to whom he told Sydney “still has a special place” in his heart. He leapt into the throbbing crowd, half dancing, half wrestling his way around as shoulders and elbows flailed with everyone dancing so hard I could feel the floor bounce.
The greatly anticipated EP Let Me Be Clear was released on July 29, and consists of six new tracks the band dreamt up and temporarily put aside while creating their previous album Positions. Thankfully, the songs have been repurposed into another album that revisits singer Dave’s tumultuous life a few years ago, caring for his wife with cancer, and dealing with his inner demons.
Gang of Youths’ talent and heartfelt messages seem destined to follow them well into their future, uplifting, inspiring and creating even more loyal fans in their wake. The band’s energy, passion and philosophy is something not to miss. – Story and photo by Caitlyn Hurley
“They said we’d have a couple years
you’re dead on paper but hey we’re still here
fight like every breath in you’s a strike
from some great fighter in the sky
and breath abundantly tonight” – Lyrics from Still unbeaten life.
Photo of the upbeat crowd inside Newtown Social Club at the Gang of Youths surprise show.