If at this point you’re still unfamiliar with Gang of Youths, it is well past time to get out from underneath the rock you’re living under. The Sydney five-piece have leapt from one monumental achievement to the next. This has recently included a festival-defining set at this year’s Splendour in the Grass and a performance at the NRL Grand Final. Just over a year after the release of the ARIA award-winning Go Farther In Lightness the rockers are back; this time with the live album MTV Unplugged (Live in Melbourne).
Recorded in front of a live audience, the performance was the first in a series of new episodes on MTV.
What a way to begin.
Performed at Melbourne’s Cobblestone Pavilion at Meat Market, the band presented stripped-back versions of their own songs; most of those being from Go Farther In Lightness. For a band that has grown familiar with the biggest of arenas, this was like taking a step back into the cupboard under the stairs.
What separates this from any other Gang of Youths release is its pure rawness. While not a trait the band is unfamiliar with, it is more prevalent than ever on this release. Not defined by production, this MTV unplugged puts the imperfections of the band on display for all to see. From the strained vocal notes of front-man David Le’aupepe to misplaced fingers on guitar frets, its beauty truly lies in its flaws.
What stands out most when listening is the presence of the orchestra backing behind the band. From strings to brass, the performance’s mellow nature really lets listeners witness the song’s complexities which occasionally are buried underneath the rest of the band.
It could be a momentary outburst of orchestra on “The Deepest Sighs“, “The Frankest Shadows” or the ensemble that lies behind “The Heart is a Muscle”. One thing is for sure: it really goddamn works. Never feeling unnecessary, it truly gives listeners the opportunity to experience these brilliant songs in a brand-new light. It almost sounds like this was the way the songs were meant to be heard.
Personality and passion pours through the songs. Whilst it would have been incredible to see this set in the flesh, this is undeniably the next best thing. Dedicating a rendition of “The Heart is a Muscle” to his late father and telling the story of Persevere, the emotion that is channelled through the entire performance is unmistakable.
At times it is just Le’aupepe by himself; Notably, the album begins with renditions of “Let Me Down Easy” and “Fear and Trembling“. At other points, the rest of the band joins him. In these moments the performance is at its peak as everything comes together and culminates into something incredibly special.
Finding time to include the older “Still Unbeaten Life” (from their EP Let Me Be Clear), the song is introduced with a simple “We are Gang of Youths, we love you, we love you, we love you”. Well Gang of Youths, I love you too.
This album is Gang of Youths at their most vulnerable, and that is what separates it from other live albums. It never seems like a collection of reimagined songs for the sake of having something to promote. Rather, it seems a celebration of a series of songs that mean so much to so many people; none more so than the band themselves.
For any Gang of Youths fan, this is an essential release. A way to experience a set of songs in a previously unheard way. For those unfamiliar with the band, it is time to change that. A phenomenal record by a fantastic band, this MTV unplugged sits in a tier well above many other live albums. Defined by pure passion and emotion, you will not be able to listen through it without shedding a tear, or maybe a few hundred.