Gang of Youths are a band that deserve attention and their gig at St Jerome's Laneway in Auckland, New Zealand last week enlightened many thousands to the fact they have plenty to say and are not afraid to say it out loud.
I was lucky enough not only to be right at the front of the stage to see them stamp their mark on the Laneway crowd, but also had a chance to catch up with a couple of the band afterwards. Lead guitarist Joji Malani and Hamiltonian Max Dunn on bass were still cooling down from the scorching afternoon gig when we sat down to chat. The unassuming pair, along with drummer Donnie Borzestowski and Jung Kim on keyboards, provide the backbone of the band, but it all revolves around the dazzling star that is frontman David Le’aupepe.
David Le'aupepe is acknowledged as the machine behind the Gang of Youths’ sound and music, driving them to ever more success as they attract new fans at home in Australia, on the shores of Aotearoa and beyond. Max and Joji freely admit they and the rest of the band are there to support and contribute where they can, but they made no secret that David calls the shots from writing all the songs, creating the sound, melody and breathing life into the general persona of the band.
This was evident from the moment David Le'aupepe bursts onto the Laneway stage until the very last note was played. From the first chord of Fear And Trembling (their opening track to their latest album Go Farther In Lightness) their intentions were also clear: it was time to wake New Zealand up to their style of rock, and show the connections they have to New Zealand and our Pacific neighbours. When I first heard this track off the album, I couldn’t stop thinking, with the piano introduction and then the steady 1-2 beat, Bruce Springsteen must have contributed something to their sound, amongst many others. I put it to Joji and Max that their sound is not like other Aussie rock bands like Cold Chisel, Midnight Oil, or the Angels for example, but seems to be more from the US and wondered how it evolved? Simply put the sound comes from David and, as it seems, so does everything else.
The Heart Is a Muscle, and Let Me Down Easy followed with the band and David really cranking things up a level. These are just great tracks that will stand the test of time for years to come. They had many of the crowd singing the songs word verbatim almost as if their life depended on it. The songs are about love, passion, determination and seeing some brightness even in the darkest moments. Much like most of the tracks off the album and their previous outing The Positions, the themes have been taken from David’s own life experience... which I suspect many can identify with.
Gang of Youths consistently produce music that is sadness wrapped by sunlight with ribbons of hope.
It’s worth noting David’s passion and persona on stage rivals many great front men of the past and present... Michael Hutchence comes to mind, even down to a similar haircut and swagger, and Bruce Springsteen with his heart and bravado showing through every song and playing them like it was their first time. Seriously, this man loves attention... almost demanding it and playing it up with the audience. Connecting with his Samoan and Pacifica heritage. there were times I thought David was going to break into a Haka or Siva during the set... which highlighted the true connection with Auckland and the multi cultural aspects of both the band and the city.
Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane slowed things down a bit, which was welcomed by the crowd, along with the cooling water spray coming from the watchful security team at the front. It has a wonderful meandering pace, which allowed everyone to take a breath before launching into the last two tracks The Deepest Sighs, The Frankest Shadows, and What Can I Do If The Fire Goes Out? Both are great foot stomping anthems and a nice way to close off the set.
The small basket of tracks really left the crowd with a taste of what was to come in Australia... where the Gang of Youths are the headline act for the six Laneway gigs over there in their home country. The Laneway gig was top of their list of things to do in the early part of 2019. It was a chance to play in front of their fans on both sides of the Tasman, before taking some time out for their own individual adventures and enjoying their new relationships.
A number of the band had a break at the end of last year either to get married (David) or engaged (Max) and so now seemed an important time to give their personal relationships some more attention.
Asked about when their new album was coming out... it was clear that after the Laneway gigs, a sabbatical of sorts was more likely than going back into the studio. Joji felt that Dave’s best songwriting comes from the life he leads and experiences he has.
Here’s hoping it’s going to be a hell of a year of new and exciting adventures for the larger-than-life singer-songwriter because this band can bring them to life like no other.