Young Fathers live @ Glasgow Barrowlands
Review written for The Skinny
“I know we’re from Edinburgh, but tonight we’re not,” Young Fathers declare to a screaming audience. When the group played a show in the capital’s Central Hall in 2015, their set came to an abrupt end: the band squaring up to bouncers zealously enforcing a curfew. They’ve played the International Festival and a DJ set in the city since then, but the lack of a hometown stop on their latest tour is indicative of Edinburgh’s live music problem. The refurbishment of the Leith Theatre – where the group are headlining this year’s Hidden Door festival (2 June) – has sparked hope of a renaissance but, in their own words, the work has only just begun. In lieu of a homecoming, the Glasgow Barrowlands proves a more than worthy replacement.
Preceding the trio onstage is Belgian singer WWWater – real name Charlotte Adigéry – whose gentle, brutal music viciously defies classification. Her set is a hot-and-cold blend of delicate vocals and smooth melodies with beats heavy enough to make a Sub Club DJ blush. Tying the delightful mishmash together is Adigéry’s gorgeous voice; the splashes of R'n'B, dance, hip-hop, and disco infused into her music all coalesce around her authoritative delivery. Before she leaves, Adigéry breathlessly declares that she’s in love with every single person in the room. Given the fervent response to her set, the feeling sounds mutual.
It takes a couple of minutes before Young Fathers can get a word in upon walking onstage, standing in stoic silence as their audience shriek and cheer with steadfast reverence. When the clamour finally peters out, Alloysious Massaquoi bellows what feels like Young Fathers’ maxim for the night – “What a time to be alive!” – before the three unleash a barrage of sound upon the crowd with a raucous performance of Wire. With its erratic afrobeat groove and aggressive vocals it sets the tone for a show that, even in its more ruminative moments, is volcanic. (Side note: hearing the phrase “Oh ya fucker I can dance” being roared in a thick Scottish accent within the walls of the Barras just feels right.)
That energy, which pulsates throughout the entire evening, is largely indebted to the infectious charisma of Massaquoi, Graham 'G' Hastings, and Kayus Bankole themselves. The latter in particular commands the crowd’s attention from the moment he climbs onstage. His effortless magnetism is staggering, imbuing every single lyric he spits with fury and grace, whilst hurtling himself around the stage with an apparently boundless energy. Even Tremolo, a relatively placid song in the context of the group’s discography, lands like a brick thanks to his ferocious delivery.
It helps that the fans are game. Whether chanting back lyrics during reflective tracks like I Heard, or slamming into each other for a particularly kinetic rendition of new single Toy, their insatiable hunger takes the band by surprise. As Hastings notes, after seeing the audience losing their shit to destitute anthem LOW, a Glasgow crowd will find a way to mosh to anything. The only time the room falls quiet is for the penultimate song of the set, Lord, a gorgeous ballad that almost ends the evening on an unexpectedly melancholy note, melting together bright piano keys with a throbbing synth bass.
Part of Young Fathers’ appeal has always been their willingness, or eagerness, to cast aside convention and preconception in favour of the fresh and bold – their In My View video is a stunning rejection of traditional masculinity – and their set at the Barrowlands follows suit. “Do you want us to pretend the show’s over and fuck off,” Hastings caustically asks the audience to a chorus of boos and hisses, “or do you want us to just stay and play the last song now?” As someone who hates encores, hearing the band mercilessly mock the concept and instead launch into a violent performance of Shame is life-affirming.
Judging by the deafening reaction in the room, the crowd feels the same. When Young Fathers exit the stage and the house lights go on, the room fills with excited chatter; phrases like “best I’ve ever seen” and “once-in-a-lifetime” are traded without hesitance. Their set at the Barrowlands is the kind of night that you can only experience in Glasgow, with everyone both on and offstage shedding any and all inhibitions.
It’s an hour-long explosion, and a manic reminder of why Young Fathers are Scotland’s most exciting cultural export. What a time to be alive indeed.