I have started to notice a trend happening recently with my albums of the year. In both 2018 and 2019 I was subjected to these phenomenal records from Joshua Powell and The Maine, respectively. After seeing each of them live at the end of that year promoting the record in question (for Powell it was their album release show for PSYCHO/TROPIC and for The Maine, the Chicago date of their tour in support of You Are OK), I realized both times that I had found my album of the year. This didn’t happen for me in 2020 or 2021, but there also weren’t a whole lot of concerts that I attended in either of those years.
Enter Gang of Youths in 2022, who appeared a few times beforehand on my Discover Weekly playlist, but apart from that didn’t really occupy any space in my mind until I gave their two-month-old LP angel in realtime. a listen four days before the show. Immediately I was overcome with this overwhelming sense of incredulity: how could a band craft such catchy indie rock tunes while somehow not just incorporating but often even spotlighting these lush string arrangements? How could a lyricist tell a story so vividly that it makes you feel all of these conflicting emotions, all at once? Yet, that is precisely what Gang of Youths does on their third full-length, an album which, after hearing many of its songs flawlessly interpreted into live form, will honestly slightly surprise me if it doesn’t end up being my 2022 album of the year – more on that here.
Frontman David Le’aupepe said it best at one point during the band’s headlining set at The Vogue on Friday evening: that for five minutes, or, in this case, a little over an hour and five minutes, it didn’t matter that folks had bills to pay or jobs to go into on Monday. All that mattered was that everyone had gathered together to sing, dance, have a fun time, and hopefully temporarily take their minds off the troubles of their day-to-day lives. Of course, music as a tool of escapism has been around forever, so there’s nothing groundbreaking about that frame of mind, but Le’aupepe and his five-member band of brothers weren’t that one-dimensional. While this was a guiding aspect of their thirteen-song set, they didn’t fall into the tone deaf trap that many “music as escapism” artists do. Instead, Le’aupepe took time in between tunes to make multiple mentions of the prison industrial complex and slavery, which I realize are and have been very much intertwined into American society, so I appreciated hearing him call these things out specifically.
With his on- (and off-) stage antics, Le’aupepe found a way to be humorous while not at all taking away from the band’s stellar performance, but rather enhancing it. Between hugging, high-fiving, and taking selfies with fans early and often, running through the crowd and up into the balcony section of The Vogue and then eventually back down again on “Magnolia,” and even calling certain fans in the crowd out by name at one point, the singer and bandleader’s contagious enthusiasm and energetic charisma did not go unnoticed. He wasn’t the only Gang of Youths member to engage the audience though: while the rest of the band was mostly confined to the stage (aside from bassist Max Dunn’s one-time jump into the photo pit), I observed guitarist Jung Kim making eye contact with certain fans as well, and all of the musicians were moving around freely on stage. Add to that a fitting backdrop with different visuals running from song to song, along with The Vogue’s signature disco ball that synced up almost perfectly with the band’s performance of “tend the garden,” all of which proof that the Australian-based rockers could offer not just a sonic euphoria but also a complementary aesthetic to go along with it, something at which many artists try but not all succeed.
Gang of Youths was the band nearly everyone had come to see, however they weren’t the only ones to perform that evening. Opening up the show and serving as the support for the bulk of the tour was Brooklyn native Casual Male, a seasoned musician who has played for everyone from Des Rocs to Chet Faker. The veteran bassist and multi-instrumentalist started the project several years ago as his solo outlet, and his live set proved just that: commenting in jest on how his band all got jobs with the pandemic, the artist whose government name is Tim Lappin had an ornate pedalboard setup with all of his backing tracks. Lappin also mentioned that he was no stranger to Indianapolis, as this was his fourth or fifth time coming to town to perform, and you could tell from his entertaining dialogue. It almost felt like he had been a comedian in a past life, as he kept cracking witty comments and conversing with the crowd throughout his time on stage.
Musically Casual Male embodied this vibey sort of rock and roll, with heavy synths appearing on many his songs, of which roughly half were yet-unreleased. Of course, as bass is his primary instrument, many of his songs also featured prominent basslines, including a low-end-heavy “Don’t Want Me Around” which actually made me disappointed when I went back and heard the studio version, where bass is still present but not nearly as prominent. Lyrically he brought a lot of cool one-liners, but one that really stood out to me was in “Takin’ it Easy” where he sings “wish I could punch him in the teeth, but instead I’m staring at my feet.” It’s a mood that I’m sure many folks can relate to. Even with many in the audience talking during his set, Casual Male still fought through it and successfully put on an enjoyable opening act for what ended up being an unforgettable evening.