Gang of Youths at The Bottom of the Hill – A Concert Review
Gang of Youths’ visit to San Francisco was aggressively energizing and uplifting, but their performance didn’t shy away from somber subject matter. The common thread was passion. Whether communicating the positive message of “Say Yes to Life” or explaining the need to “Persevere” in view of life’s injustices, Gang of Youths were fully invested. And the attendees were “all in.”
The common thread during the car trip following the concert was “Why doesn’t Gang of Youths have more traction in the United States?” The venue was Bottom of the Hill, which identifies its capacity as 246. It is one of our favorite San Francisco venues, but the intimacy does not reflect the talents of the band. Sure, the band is from Australia. Far less entertaining Australian bands have a more significant U.S. footprint, so that doesn’t help the understanding. Another attendee (Jesse B. from Delaware) made an astute observation – the impact of a song’s message on a person often depends upon the past experiences of that person. Yes, but the messages of songs by Gang of Youths ranged from strongly assertive to exposed vulnerability (“Perservere”).
Almost every review of the Gang of Youths includes a comparison to a band or artist having a larger U.S. footprint. Rolling Stone’s review of 2018 SXSW compared the band to U2. There are legitimate comparisons of frontman and principal songwriter David Le'aupepe to the passion and charisma of Bruce Springsteen. We don’t claim to have a better one from an overall perspective, so we’ll reference the “little things” that have made past concerts memorable. During one song, Le'aupepe left the stage and walked/danced through the audience, similar to Dan Smith (Bastille). And he isn’t shy about his dance style, like Samuel T. Herring (Future Islands). He puts in the effort to make eye contact with a large number of attendees, like Jehnny Beth (Savages). He also adjusted the lyrics of “Go Farther in Lightness” to describe San Francisco, rather than Sydney. The end effect is that Gang of Youths were “relatable.”
While David Le'aupepe (vocals, guitar) is front and center, he is not the only skilled member of Gang of Youths. More than once, the drumming of Donnie Borzestowski deserved to be the center of attention. Joji Malani (lead guitar) showed abilities in a range of genre demands. While the band’s genre is unquestionably Rock, Malani took dives into Atmospheric, Ambient and Shoegaze. Jung Kim (keyboards) and Max Dunn (bass guitar) played key roles during the setlist, providing a strong basis for a conclusion that the members were handpicked from a pool of talented musicians. It came as a surprise when Le'aupepe announced that most of them met at “Jesus Camp” (Hillsong in Sydney, Australia).
For San Francisco Bay Area gig-goers who missed the opportunity at Bottom of the Hill, a second one is ahead. Gang of Youths will be at the 2018 Outside Lands Festival.