Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander was an ethereal warrior princess dancing, voguing, performing into the beyond of a feverishly upped, completely sardined Wednesday night crowd at The Regency Ballroom.
The rising musk of too many warmed-up bodies bopping to ultra-dance-y bass beats was the textbook sort of feel-good, midweek redemption that British synth-pop band Years & Years delivered. Regardless of anyone’s dissected thoughts on pop music, nights like these can be very simple.
Think about Technicolor strobe lights and a droning synth line that sometimes makes every song sound like every other song. Think about a karaoke chorus and freakish energy fed off the stage to the audience and back, in loops. Think about Alexander, who is the band’s lead vocalist but might seem like solo talent when Mikey Goldsworthy (bass, synth), Emre Türkmen (synth), Paris Jeffree (drums), Joell Fender (backup vocals) and Phebe Edwards (backup vocals) fade a bit too much into the background. Alternatively, don’t think at all.
The band started off the night with “Sanctify,” a track off its new album Palo Santo, which is coming out July 6. Right away, the sensual elements of BDSM combine with the mystic elements of percussive jungle synths, and this is the mood for the rest of the night: tropical rock gospel-pop with a hint of early aughts and a strong drum drone, the high-energy, love-oriented bangers that get played at parties and in late-night rides with cars full of people.
Sex and spirituality continued in “Take Shelter” and “Shine” off the band’s 2015 album Communion. Then, a momentary downer in an acoustic, spotlit piano performance of the band’s single “Eyes Shut,” which is certified platinum in the U.K. For the most part, these moments of sonic rest were sparse. Alexander was uninhibited and unchoreographed onstage as the band rolled through hits off both Communion and Palo Santo, teasing unreleased tracks such as “Hallelujah” and “Rendezvous” and dancing the night away.
Where Years & Years’ music videos seem to be meticulously directed, narratively driven and aesthetically inspired from auteur film, the band’s live performance was meant for a dance club rather than a David Lynch enthusiasts get-together. This might be due to the limbo-timing of the performance. The band hasn’t released a new album in almost three years and is just beginning to promote singles off Palo Santo without being fully able to perform its new sound until the album is officially out. The android-robot vs. human story elements that the band has laced into the released music videos for Palo Santo hopefully hint toward a more immersive performance in the band’s international Palo Santo Tour later this year.
However, in this version of reality, Alexander carried himself with a mischievous playfulness that oozed the same charming stuff as the upbeat, very-suggestive-if-you-pay-attention-to-the-lyrics tracks. Alexander is irresistible as a performer. It’s the curly red hair, the androgyny, the ferocity in his singing voice and the softness in his speaking voice, the way he moves his body that’s tinged with counterculture diva-ness and demands an in-person interaction.
In between songs, Alexander mentioned San Francisco as a place he considered a spiritual home, and perhaps the all-too-familiar dreaminess of this city gets all of us — especially the artists — and lends itself to consistently all-out performances by its admirers. Alexander was no different.
As tacitly promised, the night ended with the same fountain-of-youth energy with which it began. Alexander performed “King” with a golden plastic crown thrown to him by someone in the crowd. Then, all the members onstage held hands and bowed in what seemed like an old-school gesture for a pop group.
In the buzz, Alexander’s Herculean energy was soul-level rejuvenation. It was the easy joys of a night out dancing, of forgetting and remembering. After all, this is where Years & Years, the poppiest of pop, flourished.