Last Monday saw the all conquering Years & Years roll into Oxford, fresh off of chart successes with smash singles ‘King’ and ‘Desire’. Playing to a sold out crowd at Cowley’s 02 Academy, the band showed why they’re amongst the most buzzed about bands in the UK, with a high energy infectious set that remained winsome even whilst the band’s relative newcomer status shone a little brightly.
The band ostensibly comprises three members, but even with an extra joining them for their live set, Years & Years remains essentially a solo act. The star is Olly Alexander, former Skins actor turned pop frontman, who engaged the crowd and seemed to be the main beneficiary of the adoring shrieks coming from the O2’s packed out first few rows. His voice soared across octaves, distinct enough never to get lost amongst the live instrumentation, malleable enough to run the gamut of tempos and emotions his songs cover.
His performance connected with the excitable electricity within the often sneakily sinister lyrics that make Years & Years’ pop so fascinating. But up on stage, the slight Alexander didn’t entirely command. An endearingly sweet presence, he still seems overjoyed at this point in his band’s success that anybody is responding to them at all. Yet that he didn’t demand the audience’s attention hardly mattered, as his adoring followers gave it to him willingly. Every frenetic dance move or excitable jump elicited a huge response from the hugely game crowd, and his attempts to engage the back of the room were a nice touch. It’ll be interesting to see how long his wide eyed exuberance and humility can be maintained, as Years & Years complete their ascent to the top tier of UK acts.
Nevertheless, they barrelled through a set list that a less generous reviewer may critique as being a little front loaded with familiar hits. But when every song is a crowd pleaser – a position Years & Years fortunately find themselves in – it hardly matters. New single ‘Shine’ went down particularly well, and the band’s older tracks like ‘Take Shelter’ were received rapturously. The band tackled a tricky situation well; with their debut album not coming out until later this month, they’re still playing to crowds that at best can only be passingly familiar with the band’s oeuvre. But the new material sat alongside the prerelease singles nicely, and Alexander’s frequent trips to his sit down keyboard lent further variety to an already well crafted set. Years & Years delivered an immensely promising show from a young band. Despite not having fitted Oxford into their upcoming October tour, Alexander’s frequent expression of joy at the band’s reception suggest they’ll be back sooner rather than later.