GANG Of Youths' shamanic frontman David Le'aupepe made a point of telling his audience on Friday night that "he'd never had a bad night in Newcastle."
That certainly wasn't about to change. You'd be hard pressed to find anyone who left the Newcastle Entertainment Centre (NEC) without a smile on their face.
Even if you didn't rate the songs, Le'aupepe has enough charisma, wit and showmanship to seduce the most cynical critic.
Sydney rock band Gang Of Youths hadn't performed in Newcastle since their Cambridge Hotel gig in 2015.
Plenty has changed in the proceeding years. Gang Of Youths have become triple j darlings, won four ARIA awards, relocated to London and released two No.1 albums in Go Farther In Lightness (2017) and Angel in Realtime (2022), making them one of Australia's biggest rock bands.
The crowd may have been well below the NEC's capacity, but Gang Of Youths make music designed for arenas to compensate for empty seats.
Melbourne singer-songwriter Gretta Ray opened the evening with a slick set of indie-pop.
Ray first broke onto the scene in 2016 when her '70s folk-pop single Drive won the triple j Unearthed High and the prestigious Vanda & Young Songwriting Award. At the time she was 18 and still in year 12.
These days Ray is a completely different artist. Wearing a hot pink suit she strutted and danced to songs from her debut album Begin To Look Around, including Cherish and Bigger Than Me.
Drive remains the 24-year-old's strongest track and had the audience singing along. Ray certainly left the stage with more followers.
It took Gang Of Youths several songs to find their feet. The five core members Le'aupepe (vocals, guitar, piano), Jung Kim (lead guitar), Max Dunn (bass), Tom Hobden (violin, rhythm guitar) and Newcastle-bred Dom Borzestowski (drums) were joined by multi-instrumentalists Louis Giannamore and James Larter and they were almost lost in the cacophony.
It came together for a frantic version of What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out? with Borzestowski beating his drums into submission.
Let Me Down Easy was an early favourite, which Le'aupepe cheekily re-started twice when he wasn't satisfied with the level of dancing and response for the song.
"I was under the impression you c---s knew that song," he said in his Australian drawl.
Le'aupepe is a fascinating performer. He talks like he should be playing rugby league or wrestling crocs, but sings with a soothing baritone and dances like a man who's won lotto.
He's working-class banter was tailored perfectly to the audience as he referenced Knights premierships and other NRL grand final moments.
At one point during the kingdom is within you Le'aupepe stopped the song so that someone feeling ill near the front could be helped out by security.
Then during Magnolia - the only song Gang Of Youths played from their debut album The Positions - Le'aupepe leapt off the stage's catwalk into the audience before completing a backward roll and kicking a water bottle, NRL style, off the stage.
The Heart Is A Muscle drew a big response, but it was surpassed by an uplifting rendition of The Deepest Sighs, the Frankest Shadows.
Gretta Ray sang the opening verse and chorus before Le'aupepe and the crowd took it to another level.
There were some low points in the set. Le'aupepe's piano ballad brothers, while touching, seemed to drag too long for the crowd's liking and hand of god was a bizarre choice in the encore.
Of course the show was of added significance for Borzestowski in front of family and friends.
His drumming on the jazz-inspired tend the garden the closing goal of the century illustrated clearly why he's a vital part of Gang Of Youths' sound.
"Thanks Newcastle for producing my favourite person in the world, after my wife, and maybe after Everton's Leighton Baines and Joey [Andrew] Johns. Donnie's [Borzestowski] in my top five favourite people."
Le'aupepe continued his appreciation of his little drummer buddy by nudging him down the catwalk to soak up the adulation of his Novocastrian fans before the band took their final bow.
Borzestowski was smiling broadly, and he was far from alone.
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