A Young Fathers gig is a controlled explosion. They are masters of intense joyous aggression. The opening night of their UK tour – at Glasgow’s O2 Academy – lasted little more than an hour but was deeply satisfying, viscerally and intellectually. They don’t half bash you about the head. They don’t half make you think.
This sixteen-song set began with a dense cluster of their most pulverising material, peaking with a brutal take on Toy, Kayus Bankole – the most animated of the three vocalists – kung-fu kicking a cymbal to the floor. There followed a gradual letting in of light and space, building towards a run of gospel-inflected songs (Low, Border Girl, Only God Knows) which reached a crescendo in Lord, Alloysious Massaquoi hollering, exultant, “This is my cross to bear.”
The keystone of their sound is an electronic drone produced by the EMS Synthi AKS, a vintage instrument with which Graham Hastings often turned to fiddle. Frantic beats and antic vocals give their music excitement and drama, but the drone creates a foundational atmosphere of unease and dread. Young Fathers make beautiful music which sounds as if something ugly is trying to burst out through its chest. And sometimes vice versa.
It was a theatrical performance. Drummer Steven Morrison, who plays standing, raised his arms with balletic grace and brought them down with industrial force, all the while casting Nosferatu shadows on the screen at the back of the stage. Callum Easter, in his first performance with the group, added texture on keyboard and lap steel.
Young Fathers don’t do encores, but Shame sure felt like one – feelgood abandon and release earned by both band and crowd. Drums were overturned, mic stands thrown down, as the song accelerated to its climax. A classic end to a classic show.