QUAYS News entertainment reporter Nathan Salt was at Albert Hall last night (October 18) reviewing Years and Years’ sell-out show for us. This is what he thought…
The masterclasses dished out by Olly Alexander and the rest of Years and Years is certainly something to behold in a live environment. Fans were brought on stage, jumpers were thrown and the lighting display was one of the finest that has featured on Manchester’s live circuit in 2015. It is easy for an artist to flop if the hype level – fans were queuing in their masses outside the venue from 4pm when doors opened at 7pm – goes into overdrive yet Years and Years only benefitted from the fan intensity. Two support acts – Oscar Key Sung and Tove Styrke – left much to be desired only for the main attraction to prove just why they deserve their chance at the Arena in their 2016 headline arena tour…
As those queuing for standing sprinted past me on the staircase it was clear that this was a gig that was hugely anticipated. The night began with the first of two carefully chosen support acts: Oscar Key Sung. The Melbourne vocalist ambled onto the cluttered stage for his 30 minute set but frankly his balance of DJ mixing on his laptop and singing didn’t quite work. He needed an additional body to help him with the tech side; it detracted from the vocals and even some carefree dance moves could not save the disjointed effort.
A singer with a clear powerful vocal – on occasion there was a distinct resemblance to that of Alexander and also The Weeknd – appeared to drown out his own delicate falsetto with a heavy backing beat which always makes it a trickier listen. At times sublime and at others a mere time filler, Key Sung is still so raw it would be difficult to lambast him for what was a hit-and-miss set.
Next up was the fellow support act and also the act I interviewed prior to the show: Tove Styrke. The former Sweden Idol contestant donned an eccentric outfit choice with a key orange theme prevalent amongst her and her small band. Despite her unyielding levels of energy and enthusiasm given it was her first time playing a show in Manchester the crowd took time to warm to her after she opened with two original tracks in ‘We Got No Time’ and ‘Borderline’.
Her set’s signature moment was her cover of Britney Spears’ ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ which transformed the sell-out crowd into a cacophonous chorus of Mancunian Britney’s. ‘Borderline’ may have been one of her biggest hits but the Swedish popstar remains somewhat of an unknown quantity in the UK and had timed the cover perfectly between her own music. Much like Key Sung, Styrke demonstrated a phenomenal vocal range with ‘Hour Long’ and ‘Impossible’ particularly lyrically transcending. Returning to Manchester in February to kickstart a headline tour, Styrke will have learnt a lot about what songs worked and which didn’t last night.
I can't stop listening to @tovestyrke if you get a chance to see her on the y&y tour worship her she's incredible.
— kieron (@forgetdiamandis) October 17, 2015
And then, two and a quarter hours after assuming our positions in the specifically arranged press area, the reason the Albert Hall was packed entered the fray to a jaw-dropping level of noise from the motormouth fans.
Similarly to many artists that head out on tour, Years and Years opened the evening with the track that opens their number one debut album Communion: Foundation. A haunting emphasis on Alexander’s vocal mixed with their synonymous electropop production, the lights dropped to a mood-lit blood orange which only heightened everyone’s excitement about what was to come. Quite simply they were laying the foundations for what would prove to be not just a strong vocal showing but also a strong visual performance.
A set which compromised much of the trio’s debut album with ‘Take Shelter’ and ‘Desire’ following the eerily effective opening track ‘Foundation’ found a spanner in the works before track four. Alexander announced ‘Worship’ was next before finding himself having to stall the crowd – he began to read handmade signs and pass on birthday messages – as the technical difficulties were attended to. Whatever the technical issue was it forced a setlist reshuffle with ‘Gold’ but Alexander made the switch effortlessly as he encouraged the audience to add harmonies to the song’s choir-like bridge.
“We are going to try something that we’ve never done before, is that ok?”
Those were the words of Alexander that sent many, particularly those in the standing area, into hysteria because it was exclusive to Manchester which added an extra special dimension. The trial was a cover of Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’ and given the overwhelming response after the song concluded it won’t be long before Years and Years start including this in future performances. A cover always works well even when the original music is so strong and popular because it keeps the audience on their toes and also a cover has that surprise element to it. A rendition dissimilar to that of Ms Spears, the Years and Years twist stripped it back and in answer to your question Olly, yes it was more than ok!
A gig where there were so many stand-out moments including ‘Shine’ and ‘Without’ but it would be impossible not to mention the band’s performance of ‘Border’ in which five fans against the barrier were – by the request of lead singer Alexander – brought up onto the stage to perform with him. A gamble, certainly, because the super fans bounded on stage giving out hugs like they were going out of fashion but it was a gesture that was well received by the audience. One fan forced his sweaty cap onto the head of Alexander which he duly obliged to wear whilst another on stage decided to sing into the microphone which was pushing the boundaries. A feel-good atmosphere kept things lighthearted but it was clear why artists and fans keep distance; the quintet brought on stage became too comfortable on stage and it was a relief when Alexander asked security to get them off the stage (they didn’t want to leave!).
A two song encore featured ‘Worship’ after the early technical blip at the start of the set and of course the track many adore, number one ‘King’. It was an obvious song choice to end the evening on but even so it was the perfect song choice to end on. Over 100 million plays on Youtube it is the Londoners statement piece, their piece de resistance, the cherry on the proverbial cake and they pulled it off with aplomb.
The British electronica will no doubt flourish at Manchester Arena next time they are hosted in the city but fans who were lucky enough to get a ticket for the Albert Hall show were hoping it would never have to end. Electropop isn’t an easy genre to master in a live capacity but any rumours about Years and Years struggling at live performances is a complete myth. If you can, get a ticket for the Arena because it really is worth every penny.
By Nathan Salt