Heavy is the head that wears the crown of song of the year. The ubiquitous ‘King’ with its fizzy Balearic hooks and dizzying euphoric chorus took everyone from club to car to kitchen dancing throughout the seasons but pop kids are nothing if not fickle. The question being can their slender shoulders carry the weight of expectation rising like the steam from the heaving sold out crowd, on the strength of one song? As the giant ‘Y’ of the Communion cover scorches red and Olly Alexander skips out to the kind of welcome usually reserved for a returning sports hero, all preconceptions are forgotten and it’s clear that a POP MOMENT is about to happen.
Alexander is exactly the kind of star millenials are in desperate need of, with their guts plugged up to vomiting level with the over emoting beigeness of Sam Smith, Ellie Goulding and even (gulp) Adele or the empty cheesiness of Katy Perry and Taylor Swift, it is thoroughly refreshing to witness someone who relishes the idea of being a proper clever pop star. He is willing to have fun with fame and is utterly at ease being the centre of attention, shadow boxing and pirouetting to the front of the stage, waving and winking at fans with homemade signs, accepting their deafening screams with a faux bashfulness. It’s also enjoyable to see an openly gay front man of a mainstream pop act eliciting lustful screams from both genders, his Topshop model good looks sending the crowd into a hormonal frenzy. A crowd that is not only made up of knowing hip kids but older daytime radio listeners and boyfriends who are not rolling eyes or holding handbags – they’re air-punching along with the rest of them. It’s hard not to be swept away when the junior Disclosure throbbing beats and housey keyboards of ‘Desire’ whirs into life as fresh and zingy as the first beachside G&T.
With only one album under their dayglo belts, the night has a breezy, knockabout radio roadshow feel about it with each familiar track being welcomed like a smash hit single, every word bellowed back and every key change a moment of ecstasy. The jerky brilliance of ‘Gold’ and the sultry ‘Ties’ are whacked out in quick succession with choruses so catchy and infectious it would make Simon Cowell weep dollars. Their pop literacy is everywhere, in the New Order of their percussion, the Pet Shop Boys of their melodies, the Hot Chip of their synths, even in their wardrobe with keyboardist Emre donning a ‘vintage’ Elastica t-shirt. They casually toss out a dubby cover of Britney’s ‘Toxic’ like a fun party trick, slowing it down, making it ooze with pent up longing but without jettisoning its original verve, this is homage not a snobby ‘credible’ reworking. Usually any sniff of a ballad at a pop gig is the universal sign to head for the bar but when Olly sits alone at the keyboard and belts out a tremulous version of ‘Eyes Shut’, his oversized basketball jersey adding another layer of vulnerability, the crowd remains utterly mesmerised, not a selfie snapped.
A band has one opportunity to get this moment right, to be this concentrated and focused without giving off an air of jadedness from trundling out the same material night after night. Years & Years still seem to be riding the high of being a buzz band – this is their Arcade Fire ’05 moment, their enthusiasm is as infectious as the audiences’ fervour. As they take to the stage after a snappy hour or so of wall to wall bangers it’s finally time to unleash the beast and when ‘King’ hits it is glorious, a golden moment of unbridled joy, an unwieldy firecracker of a song.
As the lights hit Olly arms outstretched and the crowd like a crazed army preaching the refrain ‘Let go of everything’ the phrase the very essence of what pop music can do for the soul, there’s hope that Years & Years reign as pop champions is not over yet.
Years & Years photographed for State by Leah Carroll.