DOUGLASS: Young the Giant is young in age, giant in talent


Photo by Noelle Douglass

The stage was studded with technicolor extravaganzas for nearly every song

The universe seemed to smile down on Sameer Gadhia as the frontman belted chorus after chorus into the summer air beneath a stunning, setting sun. And the whole audience, between head-banging and screaming along, was definitely smiling right along.

Young the Giant drew attention as an alt-rock artist to watch in 2010 with the widespread tracks “My Body,” “Cough Syrup” and “Apartment.” Three albums and seven years later, a very excited fan had the chance to finally see them on a beautiful Saturday night in Chicago.

But did the performance live up to the group’s reputation, especially when compared to their highly popular “In the Open” sessions that boast incredibly raw, simplified talent?

Oh, yes. Yes it did.

YTG’s first great decision was a perfect venue in the Chicagoland area. True, both band and viewers were incredibly lucky to have had perfect weather at the Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island, as storms or heat would’ve greatly dampened the vibes. But YTG’s open-air confidence and ability to reach even the farthest spectators revealed them to be highly self-aware in deeming the risk as worth it.

Noteworthy openers Joywave and Cold War Kids helped set the stage for the grooving, thumping concert that would follow.

Joywave’s brief set left viewers just intrigued enough to look into the late-November concert of their own that they plugged, while Cold War Kids’ lengthier playlist combined the group’s old favorites with new combinations, such as a colorful, raspy cover of Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain.”

Both bands were tasteful, but by the time Cold War Kids were done, the audience was more than ready to see Young the Giant emerge.

And emerge they did, commanding attention from the get-go as a mix of American-themed song clips swelled into the band’s own take on the land of the free in their dynamic “Amerika.” Gadhia strutted around in a statement scarlet jumpsuit while fellow band members grooved along on their instruments.

It was going to be a very, very good time.

“Amerika” flowed into the newer “Something to Believe In” before returning to older albums with “I Got” and “Anagram.”

Though old songs may have produced nostalgia, the band channeled the eclectic feel of their newest album primarily through the use of engaging, psychedelic visuals that flashed throughout almost the entire show. The next tracks “Titus Was Born,” “Mr. Know it All” and “It’s About Time” were studded with musical liberties, with backing vocals often replacing Gadhia as he tapped away on various percussive instruments.

Without straying from the core of their tunes, Young the Giant did extremely well at creating a truly unique experience for their audience. Nowhere else could you say you heard this specific riff, or this specific guitar improvisation. The highly diverse crowd — filled with everyone from college kids to middle-aged couples — was both engaged and surprised by what YTG tried in each song.

Stepping away from the high-energy tracks for a bit, the band followed “It’s About Time” with one of their very first singles: “Cough Syrup.” The track began, unannounced, with a simple guitar intro that was soon swallowed by a rippling scream throughout the crowd. Despite trying new things lyrically and musically for the past few years, neither the audience or YTG had forgotten where the band came from.

Their roots, and the core of the music, were incredibly important to them — a fact that Gadhia explicitly stated as they transitioned into an “In the Open,” stripped-down section of the show.

“(In the Open) is a big part of who we are. It’s a big part of where the songs come from,” Gadhia said. “So we figured why the hell not do it during our shows.”

Both “Strings” and “Firelight” were proof of the band’s incredible cohesion and lyricism, with the latter ending in a light-studded scene as the audience waved cell phones and lighters through the darkness.

With just enough time to have taken a breath, the music slowly picked up into the thumping, 70s-style jam “Nothing’s Over.” Visuals again were incredible, lighting up the band members and audience with technicolor rays as all danced into “Mind Over Matter” and then slowed down again to pay attention to the powerful meaning of “Repeat” and belt out the words to the well-loved “Apartment.”

As Gadhia prepared the band’s first farewell, a dramatic and truly breathtaking use of strobe lights staged the mood of the tour’s title track before the frontman’s thanks flowed right into “Home of the Strange.” What seemed like a billion watts of light usage and a high number of exceeded decibels later, the crowd roared as the band exited into the dark of backstage.

But of course, it wasn’t over yet. And the audience was in for a treat.

“It’s a Saturday night in Chicago,” Gadhia said upon reentering. “Let’s do this.” With those words, the group launched into a playful, almost reggae-infused cover of R. Kelly’s “Ignition” that had the crowd going absolutely wild.

Next up was the booming, guitar-filled “Jungle Youth” before Gadhia dramatically stepped into a shimmering silver jacket and belted the group’s way into a smooth delivery of “Silvertongue.” Just as all the transitions of the night had been, the encore seemed to flow perfectly from one track into the next until the actual finale of the song was reached.

With the largest cheer of the night, the band’s hard-rocking “My Body” proved to be an all out jam as visuals and musicians played on level 10. Dancing around while maintaining incredible technique, Gadhia and members screamed out the track’s chorus again and again: “My body tells me no / But I won’t quit, ’cause I want more.”

After a show like that, most any viewer, and perhaps the world itself, will definitely want more and more and more of Young the Giant.