MTV Unplugged Live in Melbourne Gang of Youths Sony Music Nostalgia is a powerful driver of both emotion and commerce. Next year will mark 30 years of the MTV Unplugged franchise, where wellknown rock and pop artists perform strippeddown versions of their songs on acoustic instruments in front of a live audience. Gang of Youths is Australia’s most beloved millennial rock band: its second album Go Farther In Lightness won a slew of ARIAs last year, and the quintet sold out every show of its 21-date homecoming tour. If Bruce Springsteen learned to play music in a Sydney Pentecostal church and then disavowed his faith after discovering sex and booze, the music he made would sound a lot like Gang of Youths.
Recorded earlier this year at Melbourne’s Meat Market Arts Centre, the entire setlist consists of Lightness, bar a lonely track from an earlier EP. Opener Let Me Down Easy is transformed from a groovy come-on to a plaintive request, as frontman David Le’aupepe sings while backed only by a string quartet. He switches to solo acoustic troubadour mode for Fear and Trembling and the rest of the band finally make themselves known (tastefully) on Keep Me in the Open. It takes four songs for the band’s bombast to come through, with strings and brass augmenting the guitar lines on lead single The Deepest Sighs, The Frankest Shadows.
When you have a singer and songwriter as talented as Le’aupepe, your band runs a real risk of becoming The Frontman Show, to the detriment of the other players and the songs. But by toning down the rock theatrics, this first Australian MTV Unplugged recording has given all performers — from Gang of Youths members to the bonus string and brass musicians — an opportunity to showcase their chops.