Seeing a band on its first headlining tour can be illuminating in two ways: you may get to see the birth of a new star, or you may see all its weaknesses come to light. With Orange County natives Young the Giant, the audience at the Wiltern in Los Angeles on February 11th experienced both, but the missteps were outnumbered by the triumphs.
The quintet (formerly known as the Jakes) rocketed from local up-and-comer status to critical and popular favorites (even being championed by notoriously crotchety Morrissey) in 2011, and the singles from their debut album Young the Giant are now modern rock radio fixtures. They even performed on the MTV Video Music Awards.
"Los Angeles! How you doing?" yelped tambourine-wielding lead singer Sameer Gadhia as he grabbed one of his two microphones. The rest of the group wasted no time laying into "I Got," an incandescent slice of mid-tempo SoCal pop that coasts along on trebly clean guitar and tasteful backing harmonies. Gadhia flexed his own pipes on the über-catchy "12 Fingers," Coldplaying to the crowd with flamboyant flourishes like an old-school pop crooner. One enthralled fan showed her approval by bestowing the gift of her brassiere to the appreciative vocalist.
Things darkened temporarily when Gadhia acknowledged the death of Whitney Houston onstage. It was fitting that the band played single "Cough Syrup" after this mention, given that the tune references mental illness and drug use in a manner both seductive and desperate. It has more than earned its hit status, and the crowd sang along to every troubled word, even though this live incarnation was strangely muted. YTG showed off some versatility on their next track, a cover of Gorillaz' "Empire Ants." They were joined by a string quartet for the piece, an atmospheric eco-lullaby driven by gentle drums and the tinkling of a far-off piano.
The strings returned for new song "Camera." Gadhia took a seat at the keyboards for this mournful electro-acoustic ballad which points to what could be an intriguing new direction for the five-piece. A few of the concertgoers were apparently already on board, displaying their approval by smoking copious amounts of weed or sloppily making out. The main set concluded with "God Made Man," which took several minutes to build from almost an anti-song into a soaring, lighter-ready anthem. Gadhia, having already channeled Chris Martin, here went full-tilt Bono-rific, wailing, "'Cause I wanted you to know that I know!" over and over to close out the relatively short set.
After a breather of just seconds, the five returned for "Apartment." A chiming confection, it features Johnny Marr-ish guitar work that perhaps earned them the Morrissey love (or, then again, perhaps not). Gadhia made sweet love to his effect-laden retro mic on the song, and he announced a surprise for the audience: "a big picture!" The house lights went up, and the band took a photo of their fans with their hands outstretched to the chapel-like ceiling. They closed the evening with single "My Body." The spiky track has hooks for days, and it sent the crowd into the stratosphere until the group departed and they were left to fight for the tambourine tossed to them like the garter at the world's loudest wedding reception.
Opening act Walk the Moon looked and sounded like a band that will be starting its own headlining tour in short order, and they had a ten-song slate to prove it. The precocious Ohioans stack melodies upon melodies in new-wave-inflected songs that attack the ear like a starving Mike Tyson. Already known for indie hit "Anna Sun," the group will no doubt be on a thousand new iPods tomorrow. And how can anyone dislike a band who sings, "I can lift a car up all by myself" and means it?
"Shake My Hand"
"What You Get "
"Empire Ants" (Gorillaz cover)
"God Made Man"