SXSW Music Review: Gang of Youths

Aussie hitmakers begin their North American takeover

Gang of Youths' first set of SXSW 2018 late Wednesday afternoon on the outdoor stage of Sidewinder only lit the fuse. Four songs in 21 minutes barely scratched the surface of the Sydney band’s double-length sophomore album. Springsteen darkness and drive coupled with Arcade Fire/U2 lift and David Le’aupepe’s Chris Cornell-like charisma shoot the moon.

Gang leader David Le’aupepe (l) and Joji Malani (Photo by Todd V. Wolfson)

“Last time we played South by Southwest was four years ago,” reckoned the frontman behind a head of curls and Darkthrone T-shirt. “Thanks for giving a shit.”

Better than that, the roomful of Aussies knew all the words.

Le’aupepe’s earnest magnetism, Joji Malani’s Flying V axe, and Donnie Borzestowski’s kick drum/toms acceleration unleashed the group’s pent-up energy first with “What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out?” The guitarists in tandem with Max Dunn’s bass splayed a 21st century West Coast punk scrim over which Jung Kim’s keyboards washed into Borzestowski’s cymbal spray. The effect was an atmospheric disturbance led by Le’aupepe looking his audience dead in the eye for connection.

“Atlas Drowned” sent a power surge through the brief appearance, but see-sawing crescendo ballad “The Deepest Sighs, the Frankest Shadows” pulsed a Win Butler/Bono radiance. Closer “Say Yes to Life,” prefaced by Le’aupepe revealing his father’s current head-to-head with cancer, rocketed skyward on Malani’s screaming lead and the frontman’s cathartic wail. Done and dusted.

Go Farther in Darkness debuted at No. 1 in Australia last August and went on to win Album of the Year and Best Group among other Australian Recording Industry Association Awards. Four more SXSW sets will demonstrate how and why.

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Gang of Youths, SXSW Music 2018, David Le'aupepe, Joji Malani, Donnie Borzestowski, Max Dunn, Jung Kim, Bono, Win Butler, Arcade Fire, U2, Chris Cornell

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