Years & Years @ MTelus – October 13, 2018

Though Years & Years is a trio, other two members are Emre Turkmen and Mike Goldsworthy, the night and show belonged to frontman Olly Alexander. The young man has the mysterious “it”. He is what makes the band and their music different from many other pop acts. Though the band is not as popular on this side of the Atlantic those who packed into MTelus on this cool fall evening did so largely because of Alexander’s pull. The guy is a star. A modern male pop star. One who is fighting against doing what is expected of him.

They could have taken the easy route and replicated the sound and songs that brought them the commercial success that their debut album Communion did. Instead they refused to play the “game”. They came back with a theme album populated with cyborg performers and uninterested humans and lyrics about sin and salvation. Deeper and searching for more than they found on Communion. Its sound owes plenty to acts like the Pet Shop Boys and 90s funk. Not obvious choices for a pop album. Unexpected and yet they manage to pull in references from music’s past at the same time.

On stage he harkens to a litany of pop acts who came before him like Britney Spears, Madonna and Michael Jackson. Though he is a slight guy he manages to dominate the stage. Seeming bigger than he is. What stands out most is how open he is and as a result the connection he has with those in the audience. His eyes were constantly connecting with people in the crowd. Holding their looks. Another thing that is apparent is that this guy loves being on stage. Definitely enjoyed his night though he did rue his choice of wardrobe (long sleeve top and PVC pants) as he was “sweating like a bitch.”

A queer icon, who has also spoke out on issues like mental health and Brexit, the 27-year-old has become a symbol of his generation. Queer and willing to speak out on things that are important to those his age. The band’s latest and second album, Palo Santo (which translated means holy wood) – a wood used in spiritual cleansing rituals, is an exploration of sex and sexuality. Mostly it is an album which celebrates queer identity unabashedly. Plus there is an attempt a la Madonna in the 90s (and before and after) to link sex and religion.

This crowd was ready to party from the short 30 minute sets by Brit solo artist Jess Kent and then Los Angeles transplant, Detroit native CYN, they brought the required energy level. When Years & Years took the stage to the song “Sanctify” around 9:45 that energy had built up to something like a religious fervour. Every slinky dance move, smile or held note by Alexander was greeted with rousing approval from the crowd, who clung to his every move.

The only two things you could qualify as missteps on this evening was the long wait between CYN leaving the stage and Years & Years taking it. As all of their instruments were there already the 30 minute wait just made the crowd impatient. The other was the fact that their set was extremely short. Clocking in at just over an hour, another 15 or 20 minutes would have made for a perfect evening.

Probably because of the shortness of the headliner’s set, there were two opening acts, Another Brit (though she relocated to Australia at age 11) Jess Kent was first up. Despite that most in the crowd probably had never heard of her she won them over in short order and was very thankful for their encouragement. Having previously opened for Hayley Kiyoko and Coldplay, Kent is quite comfortable despite the fact that she was completely alone onstage. Just her guitar, microphone and looping machine. Her songs “Get Down” and “Girls” had plenty singing and dancing along. Second up was CYN, a singer who has been signed to Katy Perry’s label. Her short set was less successful than Kent’s was. Probably because her sound did not really mesh with what was happening on this evening.

Setlist:

  1. Sanctify
  2. Take Shelter
  3. Shine
  4. Eyes Shut
  5. Karma
  6. Ties
  7. Desire
  8. Palo Santo
  9. Rendezvous
  10. Worship
  11. Hallelujah
  12. Gold
  13. If You’re Over Me

Encore:

14. All for You

15. King

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