Half way through Years & Years’ recent tour date in York, someone throws glitter all over lead singer Olly Alexander. Not a bottle. Not a cup of piss. Glitter. This sickly sweet assault sums up a set that wasn’t so much performed as unpacked at Fibbers on Tuesday night.
For anyone unfamiliar, the trio of pop purveyors behind hits ‘Desire’ and ‘King’ take everything enigmatic and appealing about the quasi-pop compositions of Bastille, liquefy it into primary colour sludge and pour it into a well used Clean Bandit mould. Their big songs function happily in a Popworld DJ set, and hit single ‘King’ is a clever melodic work, but, as their hour long performance almost to the minute serves to prove, the rest of their musical catalogue is a mish-mash of sped up and slowed down re-workings of the same formula.
Much of the hour-long set has the discomforting energy of an assembly straining to enjoy an encounter, rather than simply doing so
In front of a crowd that predominantly screams wildly before each number and (snap)chats throughout it, glitter-drenched Olly and Co. seem one part overwhelmed and another vaguely terrified by the reaction they receive from an intermittently hysterical audience. When ‘Desire’ is distributed mid-way through the set, a 300-strong entity seems to emerge from a reverie with a tumultuous shriek, unsheathing smartphones and pointing them towards the stage with a religious air of duty. One can’t help but wonder that these serial cameramen and women may have been happier staying at home and watching the same set on YouTube the following night, courtesy of their shutter-happy brethren. Heaven forbid anyone actually experiences live music for more than a second, rather than dogmatically documenting it.
The Years & Years boys proceed to whitewash a cover of ‘Romeo’ by Basement Jaxx, and rattle through a set of varied innovation. ‘Shine’ unfolds like a lesser ‘King’, but new song ‘Water’ and other hit ‘Take Shelter’ exhibit some cleverness, and are nothing if not catchy. Yet there is an unyielding sense that band and crowd alike are attempting to reach some apotheosis of satisfaction; much of the hour-long set has the discomforting energy of an assembly straining to enjoy an encounter, rather than simply doing so. It’s a scenario symptomatic of the inevitable mediocrity of reproducing songs live that are designed with the singular purpose of assaulting the charts.
This strange pleasure malaise may also be rooted in the fact that it’s tricky to get past the appalling balance of the live set. Alexander’s vocal is consistently washed out by synths and jaunty percussion, to the point where the band end up committing the cardinal sin of live music and offer weaker, less satisfying versions of recorded counterparts. Only towards the end of the set does Alexander have the artistic instinct to gesture to the sound-deck and navigate a re-balance. It’s an offering of almost-but-not-quite moments that ends up tasting bland as a result.
The crowd doesn’t cheer or call for an encore; it waits for it. And, of course, it comes. This is live music at its most digestible. You barely need to chew.