Live Review: Young Fathers at Barrowlands, 23/10/23

The "Greatest Live Band Around" hit Glasgow with everything they've got

When Young Fathers play live it’s less a concert than a religious experience. And at a packed Barrowlands, the Edinburgh three-piece are preaching to the converted. 

Formed in 2008, they’ve released four albums of gloriously uncategorisable rap/soul/noise, winning the Mercury Music Prize for their 2014 debut, Dead. They were nominated again for 2023’s Heavy Heavy, which they’ve been touring all year with no sign of fatigue – if anything, quite the opposite.

They arrive to a blue-wreathed stage as the panicky samples of ‘Shoot Me Down’ rise and fall in the background. Soon these give way to pounding drums, and a three-pronged attack from the frontmen, who alternate between singing, rapping and hollering like the building’s on fire. 

From the start, the group’s stagecraft is immaculate, like they’re preaching as much as performing. When he’s not using his deeply soulful voice, Alloysious Massaquoi adds to the percussive onslaught by hammering a drum. Kayus Bankole is so bouncy he disappears off into the audience. Graham “G” Hastings, meanwhile, delights in giving the audience a scary bouncer’s stare. In fact soulful, bouncy and scary is a pretty good summary of their sound.

Things intensify for the loudhailer rap of ‘Queen Is Dead’, which explodes into war cries at the climax. It’s at this point you realise that, despite the charisma of the three leads, this is an ensemble performance. Steven Morrison’s pounding drums give the music a tribal urgency; multi-instrumentalist (and support act) Callum Easter brings swelling synths, an ecclesiastic organ and occasional stabs of guitar, while backing singers Amber Joy and Kim Mandindo are front and centre, their voices integral parts of the beautiful cacophony. 

If the Barrowlands was at a simmer for the first two songs, it positively explodes for ‘Get Up’, a party-starter built on fractured fuzz bass and air raid sirens. Over the next 90 minutes or so, the tempo keeps rising, each new song a three-minute salvo of escalating tension, building and building to the next peak, even as that doesn’t quite seem possible. 

There’s nothing to do but dance, nowhere to look but at the people owning the stage. It’s so intense that even Hastings breaks character. “On a Monday night as well,” he says, clearly impressed. “I f*cking love this place.” Barrowlands loves them right back. 

Young Fathers are so in earnest they don’t do encores, but a triple whammy of ‘I Saw’, ‘Shame’ and ‘Toy’ threatens to take the roof off. The latter, all hectic dance squirks and shouted vocals, reaches the kind of ecstasy you’d expect to see in a gospel church, the drums kicked over, the stage flooded with white, and you’re left with the knowledge that something profound has taken place. And they say the devil has all the best tunes.

Young Fathers continue their UK tour until 1 November. Find tickets here

Photo credit: Roberto Ricciuti / Getty