Touring a concept record can be tricky — interspersing thematically connected material with earlier songs and coming up with a set list that makes sense takes care. For Brit pop band Years & Years, however, the somewhat half-baked concepts of its current album “Palo Santo,” released in early July, actually worked to its advantage at its D.C. concert Oct. 11 — there was no overarching message to get, it was simply a great evening of top-shelf current gay pop music. It was the band’s fifth show of the fall leg (19 dates) of the “Palo Santo Tour,” which wraps Oct. 30 in Seattle before moving on to Europe in November.
The “Palo Santo” concepts are pushed more through a 15-minute promo video in which the band depicts a future where gender and sexuality norms are gone and androids yearn for human emotion. The album, however, just plays like easy-on-the-ear dance/pop and you kinda forget there’s supposed to be an overarching story attached.
That’s how the concert felt too. No scenes from the videos were shown or reenacted. Out frontman Olly Alexander — tight abs on display all evening in a crop top — seemed more interested in selling the songs on their own sonic merits. He shimmied and improvised choreography — sometimes sexy, sometimes goofy — and kept it all going with solid vocals. His voice is a little Michael Jackson-ish, but thinner. The 28-year-old, possessing an undeniable “it” factor bolstered by his accent, sounded just as good live as he does on the band’s two albums, “Palo Santo” and “Communion,” which were represented almost equally.
The band was tight, the light show was impressive (much more elaborate than their previous D.C. appearances) and the set was spare but effective. A set of stairs gave Alexander a nice prop on which to dance and pose. Three symbols from the album artwork were recreated on stage and changed hue throughout the evening. His banter was friendly but minimal.
Standouts included “If You’re Over Me,” their no. 6 UK hit from the new record, “King,” a no. 1 UK hit from the first album and “Karma,” a particularly catchy “Palo Santo” earworm. The almost full house — which was odd because for weeks the Lincoln had been billing the show as sold out — was fully invested. Even though the band hasn’t broken big in the U.S. (they’ve never cracked the Hot 100 but have had decent success on the dance charts), by gay standards, they’re a huge band stateside. Much like the Troye Sivan concert at the Anthem the previous week, this felt like gay millennial night out. Nobody sat down the whole night, even in the balcony, even for the lone ballad, “Eyes Shut,” on which Alexander played keyboard.
Years & Years is a bit of a mystery band. It’s hard to quite figure out the relationship between Alexander and bandmates Mikey Goldsworthy and Emre Turkmen (both straight). They’ve taken more of a backseat as the band has taken off but unlike, say, the Supremes, you don’t get the feeling they seem to mind. They’re joined by one other player and two background singers on the current tour. The playing was tight all night with arrangements pretty faithfully recreated from studio versions.
My only slight quibble is that it was a bit heavy on opening acts. Gender-bender Tunde Olaniran and singer/songwriter CYN were both good, but Years & Years only ended up playing a 65-minute set, not even coming on ’til 9:45 p.m. (the show started at 8). I know you don’t expect something of Springsteen proportions from a band that’s only on its second album, but a few more songs from the headliners and one opening act would have made for a better overall night.
— The Blade’s Mariah Cooper contributed to this article.
Years & Years
Oct. 11, 2018
2. Take Shelter
4. Eyes Shut
8. Palo Santo
13. If You’re Over Me
* band intros
14. All for You