The last time Years & Years played in Exeter, it was in the Great Hall supporting Clean Bandit. This time, they played the Lemon Grove as part of their headline tour. The first time I heard anything about Years & Years I was interviewing Neil Milan (violinist for Clean Bandit), and awkwardly pretended to know who he was talking about when he raved about their opening act. Looking back, he was completely right. Sometimes you go to a gig and the opening acts serve as a distraction while you wait for the main act, but in the case of Clean Bandit, Years & Years captured the crowd and delivered an incredible performance. Since then, Years & Years have built up a name for themselves, with a number 1 single in the UK charts (King) and winning the title of BBC Sound of 2015 in January.
After their stellar performance in October and the release of new music, I was more than excited at the opportunity to see them live on their headline tour. In fact, I was so keen I made sure to get to the Lemon Grove as soon as the doors opened so as to ensure a place near the front. Although the room filled quickly, the event took a long time to start. As someone who had been to the Xmedia Awards the night before, gotten less than 3 hours sleep, and could not feel their feet, waiting for the opening act seemed like an eternity. An hour and a half later, Tkay Maidza, an Australian singer and rapper stepped out and got things started. By this point, I think the majority of the crowd were getting impatient and it took a while for the crowd to warm up to Tkay. Although starting off shy, she definitely grew in confidence and the performance improved as the set went on and the crowd increasingly joined in as they warmed up to her.
Finally, Years & Years. The atmosphere compared to the Great Hall was noticeably different. The smaller venue made everything seem more intimate – the stage was closer and the band seemed to almost be in the crowd. Moving quickly from one song to the next, with the occasional pause to the chat to the crowd or introduce the next song, the band had the crowd enthralled. Years & Years have developed a defining unique sound with a strong production element in their songs. This gig allowed us to hear a more stripped-back version of the songs, a simpler piano version of Eyes Shut stood out amongst the set list.
With an upcoming album release, the gig provided an exclusive preview of the album to come, and there are definitely some exciting things coming. Olly Alexander definitely knows how to engage a crowd, with a strong stage presence, incredible dance moves, and a boyish charm, the word adorable is the one everyone seems to use when talking about the lead singer. The crowd had definitely changed since October, every person seemed to know the lyrics, and in the encore (which was King) Olly Alexander stood in seeming awe as the crowd sung the song for him. It appears that Years & Years have racked up an impressive and loyal fanbase, as Olly Alexander managed to recognise various people in the crowd, picking out one in particular who had been to every show.
It was rather surreal watching a band who have topped the UK chart performing in the Lemon Grove. Earlier that day they had tweeted a picture of the synth player, Emre Turkmen, holding a caterpillar cake and balloon in one of the rooms in Cornwall house (it was his birthday), the same room I have had countless of dance classes in. I was even taught a jazz routine to Desire in the Lemmy. Despite the strangeness of being in the Lemmy, Years & Years are an incredible band to watch live and I cannot wait for their upcoming album Communion.