Cheers & Cheers for Years & Years
In a black mesh shirt, dangly earrings, and patterned pants, Olly Alexander danced in front of a sold out crowd that clearly adored him. Frontman of British synth pop group Years & Years, Alexander is exuberant, sinuous, and unashamed.
The tiny corner stage at Stage AE didn’t do Alexander – or the rest of the band – justice. When I bought my ticket for the show, I expected the performance to take place on the main Stage AE indoor stage, which spans an entire wall of the space and is raised off the ground about 4 or 5 feet, putting performers at eye level for even patrons standing in the back. However, the show on the night of Saturday, October 6th took place on a tiny, floor-level stage in the corner of the room next to the bar, a space apparently called “The Club at Stage AE”, rather than just “Stage AE”. The Club’s miniature stage not only limited Alexander’s ability to fully express his explosive energy and avant garde dance moves, but also drastically limited the audience’s ability to see him past the second row, causing noticeable tension and jockeying towards the back. I was craning my neck for most of the performance.
Years & Years hosted two openers. The first, Jess Kent, offered somewhat safe and repetitive pop songs, like a more trite version of Charli XCX and a less vocally impressive Ariana Grande. Kent started relatively strong but quickly created an awkward dynamic with the audience when she attempted on several occasions to teach us refrains to sing along with her, often with lukewarm success.
The second opener, CYN, presented a much stronger stage presence, prowling across the small stage with confidence. Offering mellow beats, lush dance sounds, and pleasantly engaging lyrics, CYN was stylistically reminiscent of other indie pop acts like Marina and the Diamonds or St. Vincent. She properly warmed up the crowd for Years & Years, especially with her vampy tune “Believer”.
Despite the limitations of the venue, Years & Years succeeded in engaging even those craning at the back of the audience. Alexander’s powerful vocals - backed up by Phebe Edwards and Joell Fender - and ecstatic energy were infectious, and the crowd absolutely loved them, singing along and dancing euphorically. Flanking Alexander were bandmates Mikey Goldsworthy and Emre Türkmen, colorfully dressed and with Goldsworthy donning face paint.
The stage lights flooded the stage with monochrome colored light, changing from reds to blues, magentas to yellows in between songs, giving each song a distinct mood and flavor; it was a nice touch of designed simplicity, especially in this intimate environment. The band primarily played songs from their latest album Palo Santo, including singles “Sanctify”, “If You’re Over Me”, and “All for You”, with some tracks from their first album Communion mixed throughout the setlist. Every track, even Palo Alto non-singles like “Karma” and “Rendezvous”, were performed with anthem-like fervor, and the energy in the room maintained a steady and joyous pulse all the way up to the finale – a performance of “King”, their chart-topping Communion single from 2016.
While it would have been nice to see them perform on Stage AE’s standard stage, Years & Years succeeded in transforming this tiny stage with terrible sightlines into an engaging and even personal platform. Throughout the show, the audience was effusive in their affection; for a portion of the show, Alexander held a white rose in the same hand as his microphone – a gift from someone in the front row. Despite – or perhaps because of – the audience’s overwhelming display of support, the band remained humble and sweetly gracious, and there was clear joy and groove in their performance.
“I love each and every one of you”, Alexander said, and reached into the audience to touch hands with fans. “We’re just a little band from the UK and we’re very happy we could come and play,” he said before their final song, “so thank you so much for coming tonight… use protection, be kind to each other”. As “King” drew to a close, Alexander blew kisses into the audience.
All For You
If You’re Over Me