“Brixton! This is literally the dream!” So says a giddy Olly Alexander, the frontman of London electro-pop trio Years & Years, ten minutes into the first of two massive homecoming gigs. At the other end of the set, he’ll go on to describe playing the same venue almost exactly a year ago, opening for Clean Bandit. “Now we have our own show!” he pants.
At this point the young crowd gives such a deafening cheer it’s impossible to hear rest of what the BBC Sound Of 2015 winner has to say, but the message is clear enough. O2 Academy Brixton holds almost 5,000 people – a cavernous space to fill two nights running on a debut album, let alone one that’s just four months old – but that’s not even close to a problem for Years & Years. Tonight it’s crammed full of dancing, selfie-snapping Y&Y fans that know all their lyrics.
The difference a year has made is as marked as the change in Alexander’s hair, which has gone from dark brown frizz to a peacocking, peroxide-blonde crop. At one point he brings up the Years & Years of 2014, who played to rooms of 250 people. In less than six months’ time from now, they’ll have completed an eight-date arena tour ending at the 12,500-capacity Wembley.
However dizzying their rise, though, altitude sickness really doesn’t look like a problem for the frontman, who perhaps thanks to his acting career (Skins, The Riot Club) has the poise of a seasoned solo artist. The 25-year-old totally dominates the stage, body popping and voice soaring like a Justin Timberlake-in-waiting. Leaping about the stage in a baggy T-shirt and shorts, playing his enthusiasm like a trump card.
Being among BBC Sound Of… alumni (Ellie Goulding, Sam Smith, Adele), the band provide a very broad appeal, if PG hour. The few off-script surprises include a synth-heavy cover of Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’, and one of their support acts (androgynous disco wizard Shamir) guesting on ‘Real’.
In the main, though, it’s Alexander’s own effervescent stage presence that invigorates the clean, R&B-tinged pop of their 2015 debut album ‘Communion’. Only when he sits at the keyboard for soppy indulgences ‘Eyes Shut’ and ‘Memo’ does the set cower back, interest levels waning noticeably.
But elsewhere, attempts at varying the set pay big dividends: on ‘Ties’, whose insistent pulse has the entire crowd waving their arms; ‘Shine’, where a clearly adored Alexander is grabbed at while prowling around the photographer’s pit; and ‘Without’, where he preaches, messianic, from his backing singers’ pedestal. Smash-hit ‘King’ is the only thing noticeably absent from the setlist when the trio leave the stage for the first time.
They save it for an encore treat, obviously. The crowd goes nuts for Alexander’s routine – for the first time tonight he’s backed by a team of madcap dancers who leave the stage during the song’s calmer section. When they return, moments later, they come wearing enormous, unwieldy crowns that fit surprisingly snugly – an apposite reminder that the young band’s growth spurt is far from over. Next stop, Wembley.
Years & Years played:
Toxic (Britney Spears cover)