“When you think about it, David Ortiz is a sportscaster, so honestly anything is possible.”
Call it brown-nosing to the local Boston fans, but these hilariously auspicious words from Gang of Youths’ singer David Le’aupepe are a testament to the Aussie band’s infectious likability. Their trip to Boston’s Brighton Music Hall on a cold December Wednesday gave them an opportunity to connect with a crowd as geographically far away from their home in Sydney as they possibly could. Be that as it may, the process of bridging that intercontinental gap proved to be a much more difficult task than anyone could imagine.
Before Gang of Youths took the stage however, fellow Australian Gretta Ray took a solitary trip into the limelight. The moment that this girl opened her mouth, I wanted nothing more than to hear her bellow out every impassioned word at the top of her lungs. Although her guitar/piano playing skills were palpably underdeveloped, her voice was something out of a dream. As if her natural set progression didn’t emphasize that enough, Ray cut her second song short out of astonishment that a string was evidently out of tune. She quickly embraced embarrassment and tuned her guitar as fast as she could, but multiple words of encouragement simultaneously erupted from the crowd as they made it apparent that her simple chord arrangements were not the the cause of their amazement. In fact, Ray’s honest embarrassment made the crowd appreciate her even more. The only problem with Gretta Ray’s voice however, is that she lacked the supporting charisma that would propel her into a lead act. Virtually every song she sang was a Taylor Swift-esque complaint about the side effects of a bitter break up, while her stage presence was motionless and passive. If she’s to make it to the next level, building her brand around a more energetic personal charm is what’s going to take her there.
While Gretta Ray had room for charismatic improvement, Gang of Youths’ brand made charisma their crux. Singer David Le’aupepe may have disappointed viewers by cutting his trademark hair (or lion’s mane depending on who you talk to), but that didn’t prevent his grandiose personality from owning the spotlight. He danced around like a madman, beating his chest, thrashing his new hairdo, and shaking his backside as if he were performing in front of his bedroom mirror. The man seemed to be in his own world.
Yet while Gang of Youths’ performance emitted a poised fearlessness, their mercurial courage came out during the banter in between songs. Le’aupepe admitted early on that he had lost his father only months before, and that a lot of their 2017 album Go Further In Lightness was centered around that crushing inevitability. While Gang of Youths performance was loud and boisterous, it became glaringly visible that they were trying desperately to leverage the support of the crowd. You could especially sense this heartbreaking fragility in Le’aupepe’s voice, which many would normally consider to be one of the most emblematic rock-n-roll voices in all of Australia. Despite that preconceived brand, Le’aupepe was choosy where to raise his voice beyond a rambunctious murmur to the point that the venue’s sound engineering was questioned for authenticity. When Le’aupepe joked that “last time we played in Boston I think 12 people showed up,” the audience collectively realized that they had a vital role to play in this man’s recovery. Their participation wasn’t a theatrical addition to the show, it was a necessary mark of support to show the band that their journey halfway across the world was well worth it.
As the crowd got more and more involved with the show, Le’aupepe finally admitted what everyone was sensing, as he confessed “This unending hunt for approval is diminishing my former fear and uncertainty.” Le’aupepe’s connection with the crowd finally allowed him to open his full-bodied voice, belting out dramatic crescendos as if he had an authentic desire to sing away his demons. That honesty continued when encore-related questions started spinning around people’s heads. Le’aupepe gave the confident assertion that “We’re not going to go off and come back or any of that bullshit…This isn’t some fake arena act, this is more of us just playing with our mates.” As Le’aupepe laughed and danced through the crowd while hollering the drunken lyrics of “Magnolia“, many of us finally felt like their mates. Truthfully, I think that’s all Gang of Youths ever wanted.
Favorite Live Tracks: The Deepest Sighs the Frankest Shadows, Magnolia, The Heart Is a Muscle, Let Me Down Easy, Say Yes To Life
Below is a playlist featuring the full setlist from Gretta Ray and Gang of Youth’s performance at the Brighton Music Hall.