Almost everyone in the room is Australian. There’s 200 of us, a capacity crowd at The Water Rats in King’s Cross. Broad accents, cold lager, and a slightly self-conscious atmosphere. We’re all over here – the capital of the world – sardined into a room with nowt but other Australians watching an Australian band. It’s slightly bizarre, but better left unsaid.
It’s clear that these guys, this gang of not-quite youths anymore, have a lot of goodwill. People are anxious to get started. The mood is swelling, eager. There’s a sense of expectation you don’t often find at gigs like these – especially on some irrelevant Wednesday in this English backwater with Spring still yet to fully get its shit together and spring.
Like the title of their song ‘Restraint and Release’, Gang of Youths peak and dip, dragging you along with frenetic speed before pulling away. The hulking front-man, Dave, commands his audience with the skill of a maestro. Some bands put on a show, these guys take you for a ride. It’s an event, and the froth of excitement from the rest of us is palpable.
What strikes me about their live set is how human it is. Dave is honest, and introduces some of their songs with deeply personal riffs about where this or that song came from, about why he wrote it. He tells us that the woman about whom he wrote ‘Knuckles White Dry’ has recently passed away, before launching into a jangling and pared back version played just by him, alone on the stage. I tell you that music soared. There’s always something – glasses stacking, glasses, crisp packets crinkling, beers spilling, EFTPOS transactions validating. But not tonight. For five minutes, the 200 or so of us let this tragic epitaph ring out in silence.
The final chords hang in the air before we move on, letting them take us someplace new, and we all feel a little closer for having lived it together.
Gang of Youths play together. It isn’t just a few guys with instruments doing their bit in time with the rest, but a tight unit. They capture the sound of their album so well, with the vocals not dropping a note – something astonishing when you consider how vocally demanding their set is. But their tone feels somehow fuller in the flesh. The drums on the album sounded like an afterthought, but at The Water Rats the percussion fills out their sound.
Gang of Youths are playing again at The Camden Assembly on the 31st of May. Tickets are £9.
Featured image: Sydney Morning Herald.