Have we mentioned how great it feels to have live music back? Because my god does it feel magnificent to be going to gigs again! However, I have to admit, it took a couple of them before I could ease back into familiarity. After nearly two years without live music, and lingering doubts and fears from the pandemic still hanging on, those first few gigs felt like tentative baby steps back into normality. This was the first gig back where I felt at home again, where I felt the spark that had been absent for so long. Like reconnecting with an old friend you haven’t seen in ages; you work through the awkward catch-ups until eventually it feels like no time has passed at all. It’s a gig that felt truly special and will stay with me for a long time to come.
Cramming into the surprisingly cosy venue space of Leeds Beckett with a packed out crowd of eager fans certainly took me back. Not only has it been a good long while since I’ve seen such a high density of bodies in one place, even before the pandemic, it’s also been longer than I care to admit since I’ve been to a gig at a Students’ Union. Though the setting was rather basic and humble, I can’t deny there was a charm to it. The same could be said of opening act Tom A. Smith’s set as he took to the stage with nothing more than his guitar. As if being in a student union wasn’t making feel old enough already, this young Geordie lad made me feel ancient as he commanded the stage with a confidence and composure beyond his years – especially given he apparently joined the tour on short notice. His set was a bit of a mixed bag however; a lack of diction in his vocals and of strong hooks in his songs otherwise held back a performance filled with gorgeous striking guitar tones.
Taking to the stage fashionably late, there was already an electricity in the air as soon as the driving bass line of ‘The Angel of 8th Ave.’ kicked in. Right from the second he stepped on into view, Gang of Youths’ frontman David Le’aupepe brought an infectious upbeat energy to the stage. His passionate vocal performance and wild “dance like no one’s watching” moves made him feel like a sheer force of nature. More than that though was his connection with the crowd. It seemed like everyone he could see within line of sight got a smile or a wave or a fistbump, or some other moment in the spotlight, as though he was greeting everyone individually throughout the course of the night, peaking with a feral rendition of their breakout hit ‘Magnolia’ wherein he hopped the barrier and ran out into the crowd. It’s up there as one of the most charismatic and captivating sets I’ve ever seen.
But even the best performance in the world requires an engaged audience for everything to come together, and the hungry Leeds crowd managed to soak up the band’s energy and return it twofold. Singing the lead melody of ‘In The Wake Of Your Leave’ all the way through the track and beyond, and belting out the chorus of ‘The Deepest Sighs, The Frankest Shadows’ with arms raised to the heavens. The enthusiastic dancing and spirited circle that opened up on ‘Let Me Down Easy’ and ‘What Can I Do If The Fire Goes Out?’ respectively. I’ve seen plenty of crowds that have acted that their thoughts were somewhere else entirely, and plenty who have gotten too carried away and lost sight of the music itself. This however – I wish I could bring this crowd with me to every gig I go to. Completely absorbed by the set, feeling every word, moving to every note, inhibitions cast aside while still being considerate of each other is such a packed out crowd. Between the vibrant and magnetic command of the stage, a setlist packed with the most anthemic offerings from a band on top form, and a crowd ready to let loose two years of built-up tension, it was the perfect recipe for one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to.