Live Review: Gang Of Youths At O2 Academy Brixton

The Australian rockers turn heavy subject matter into a joyful night of music at Brixton’s O2 Academy.

Gang of Youths front man David Le’aupepe is, by all appearances, having the time of his life. Dancing his way across the O2 Academy stage, he takes frequent moments to affectionately grab the heads of his fellow band members, or to run up to the very front of the stage and mouth ‘I love you’s to the Brixton crowd. For the first six songs of his set he is exuberant, larger than life and unfailingly joyful. That’s why it comes as such as a surprise when he sits down at the piano and tells the crowd, “I had to put my dog down today.” Cue murmurings, a collective ‘aw’, and a few confused whoops. Le’aupepe grins. “My therapist told me not to tell you that.”

He talks to the crowd for a while before he launches into ‘Brothers’, a quiet, frank explanation of his complicated family history, in which he introduces us to secret siblings that he only met after his father’s death. The mood is heavy, but it’s only a short while before Le’aupepe is up and dancing again, shaking his hips under a golden mirror ball as he belts out ‘Magnolia’, an upbeat song about his suicide attempt. Midway through, he launches himself into the crowd and goes surfing to the back of the O2 Academy. Onstage, his bandmates smile knowingly at each other. 

Gang of Youths at the O2 Academy Brixton, March 15 2022

This is what Gang of Youths do best – tragic, hard-to-face themes packaged in triumphant rock. Le’aupepe is an irresistible performer, determined to let the crowd know at every opportunity how pleased he is to see them, determined to make sure that everyone has a good time. He restarts ‘Let Me Down Easy’ because we’re not dancing with quite enough abandon. When the crowd gets rowdy, he steps away from the microphone and asks them to be careful. “Are you okay?” he asks at regular intervals. A resounding ‘yes’ returns from the crowd. 

Most of the crowd-pleasers come from their sophomore album, Go Farther In Lightness, particularly the bombastic ‘What Can I Do If The Fire Goes Out?’, but the tracks from the new record, Angel In Realtime, diversify their sound for a truly excellent set-list. The band slowly builds ‘Spirit Boy’ from a grieving ballad to an arena-filling anthem, and the electrifying ‘In The Wake Of Your Leave’ is a true highlight with a hook that the crowd won’t let go of even as the band walk off stage. For an album about the loss of a parent, it produces a remarkable sense of celebration, but Gang Of Youths have always been about celebrating those enormous feelings – and finding the humour in them. 

The dog was a chihuahua, Le’aupepe tells us as he sits at the piano. Perhaps an odd choice of dog for a 6″3′ man, he admits, but as he jokes about getting used to life with such an ‘emasculating’ animal it’s clear that he loved it. He talks frankly about what he loves (his family, his bandmates, us) and what he hates (police states, the prison system, cynicism). The last has no place at a Gang Of Youths show. “Don’t be a cynic,” Le’aupepe tells the crowd. 

The first encore is ‘Goal Of The Century’, Angel In Realtime’s closer, and in its final lines Le’aupepe is both grateful for the good things ahead of him and sad that his father won’t be there to share in them. “In a way it’ll feel like, you were an angel in realtime,” he sings. As the song winds down, no one in the O2 Academy Brixton is feeling cynical. Actually, I suspect we all want to call our dads.