Years & Years sings sacrilegious praises at the Fillmore

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Years & Years thrives in the twilight hours, making music for the adrenaline and alcohol-fueled blur between Saturday nights out and Sunday mornings after. The electro-pop outfit’s set last Monday night at the Fillmore wasn’t just a celebration of club culture or a romp in the sheets. For the trio, God exists in the spaces between two people. “My kingdom for your graces,” proclaimed Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander in “Worship,” a highlight from the band’s set.

The dance floor was appropriately packed for Years & Years’ set. With accolades abound — including BBC’s taste-making, prestigious Sound of 2015 award — the hype surrounding Years & Years metastasized in a set that sold out weeks prior to the show. Touring in support of Years & Years’ debut album Communion, the trio’s set married piety and sin.

Through a cocktail of neon-bright, cinematic synthpop garnished with religious devotionals fit for Sunday morning mass, the British trio committed sacrilege that night. From its album name, Communion, to the nonstop allusion to worship and prayer, Years & Years pillaged the Biblical canon in pursuit of capturing the essence of love within a three-minute pop song.

“We went to the Castro last night!” Alexander proclaimed unabashedly early into their set. Certainly, it’s not a statement that the Pope would be too pleased to hear. Nor would he be too pleased at the blatant appropriation of Christian imagery.  

But the handsome, bleach-blond Alexander was beguiling with his charms. Playing Casanova throughout the night, he thrusted and gyrated his hips with abandon. He sang of lust, sex and yearning, all while maintaining the doe-eyed chastity of a Catholic choirboy. In the breathy, pounding strut of “Take Shelter,” Alexander was explicit in his carnal intent. “It’s alright if you want to get used,” he swooned.

Yet for much of the night, Alexander was not so much the one-night stand as much as he was the devoted companion. He eschewed the lustful, club-worthy dance moves in favor of manning the piano — fitting when taking his classically trained background into account. “Let me take your heart, love you in the dark — no one has to see,” he crooned in the confessional ballad “Memo.”

In any other context, the juxtaposition of lust and innocence would probably be construed as soppy platitude or crude smut. But for Years & Years, devotion and obsession are one and the same. Romance is equivalent to idolatry, and lovers aren’t just fighters — they’re also saints. The boundaries between lust and love are not merely straddled with the trio’s thrilling electronic pop music — they’re obliterated.

As a result, a vast majority of couples filled the Fillmore grounds. Giddily singing along or simply swaying with hands interlocked, lovers of all allegiances mirrored the lines sung by the band. For many of the couples — and the openly gay Alexander — the night wasn’t so much a chance to groove and strut, even with his deft body rolls.

For much of the audience in attendance, it was unadulterated catharsis. Love and secrecy are oftentimes intertwined within the queer community. “I was biting my tongue, I was trying to hide,” goes “Shine.” It’s arguably the band’s most triumphant song — an ode penned by Alexander for his partner. When Alexander sang this line out loud, it felt too vulnerable, as if he were reciting a line from a diary entry.

Once the band closed the set with “King,” arguably its biggest hit, Alexander was content with standing back and holding the mic to the people in the crowd as they belted out all the words to the song. At that moment, its closing lines felt especially appropriate: “Let go of everything.”

Years & Years’ set at the Fillmore was a communal celebration of love, with all its complications and joys. Singing in unison, the night was an opportunity for audiences and the bandmembers themselves to display their hard-earned devotion without consequence.

Contact Joshua Bote at [email protected].