Gang of Youths @ The Forum4 November 2018
“Say Yes to Life” is a fitting name for Gang of Youths’ tour, and a fitting final track for their latest album, Go Farther in Lightness. The album is testament to the highs and lows of the human experience, and to the painful process of recovering from depression and tragedy.
While the majority of the set list at Gang of Youths’ show in Melbourne at the Forum Theatre consists of songs from Go Farther in Lightness, it also includes several tracks from their debut album The Positions and their EP Let Me Be Clear.
It’s weird listening to Go Farther in Lightness broken up this way, with the tracks playing in an unusual order (I’m a massive fan of the album and Gang of Youths in general, so if you’re looking for an unbiased review this probably isn’t it). I would highly recommend listening to the album in its entirety; the tracks are arranged artfully to flow into each other, each picking up from the last. It also includes several string orchestra intermission tracks—“L’imaginaire”, “Le Symbolique” and “Le Reel”—which weave the album together beautifully.
The band addresses dark themes, but in true testament to the sentiment behind the album and “saying yes to life”, they never bring the mood down. Before playing one of the saddest songs on the album, “Persevere”—a song about loss, hopelessness and his friends’ miscarriage just before the baby was due to be born—lead singer David Le’aupepe jokes with the crowd about how he used to think the band was edgy, and how he would leave the stage after finishing the set without saying a word. From his self-described “shit banter” it’s clear that he might not be super comfortable talking on stage, but he tries his best. Gang of Youths is not the edgy band they once attempted to be.
It’s commendable that they chose to play some of their slower songs such as “Persevere” and “Still Unbeaten Life” (both featured on their MTV Unplugged album released in October), despite being known for their upbeat rock songs.
But that we don’t miss out on. Le’aupepe grooves on stage for “Let Me Down Easy”, perhaps the band’s most popular song—coming in at number two on Triple J’s Hottest 100 in 2017. But every time I’ve seen Gang of Youths live, I’ve always thought that they peak when performing “Magnolia”. Magnolia, a track from The Positions, tells the story of the night Le’aupepe intended to kill himself after dealing with his wife’s cancer and their marriage breakdown. He found hope, however, sitting under his father’s magnolia tree in his parents’ yard that night.
I’m stunned when Le’aupepe jumps off the stage and begins walking towards where I’m standing at the corner of the fence which holds back the crowd from the stage. If he thinks that he can win us over by walking directly into the crowd and hanging out with the peasants, then he is absolutely right. The crowd was invigorated, and the guy next to me looks like might cry, probably because Le’aupepe just high-fived him.
Before they close their set, Le’aupepe leaves the audience with perhaps the most important messages behind Go Farther in Lightness—to forgive, to love, to live and to look after one another. Life can be shit but there are ways to make it better, and Le’aupepe has learnt that.
Of course, Gang of Youths finish with “Say Yes to Life”, and the crowd is ellated.
Photograph by Jess Gleeson