The first time I heard of Young the Giant was almost eight years ago, about 15 minutes before the first time I saw the California band live. I had trekked down to Biscayne Boulevard on a Tuesday night (a school night!) to see Incubus at Miami’s Bayfront Park Amphitheater and got there early at the suggestion of an industry-insider friend who had offered me tickets at the last minute.
“Yeah, Incubus should be pretty good,” he told me before the show, “but the crew is all really excited to see the opening band tonight.”
What followed that conversation was an opening set from a young, confident, energetic, and superbly catchy band that was still more than a month away from the release of its debut album. The group had solid songs, an electrifying frontman, and seemingly boundless potential. Their eponymous debut album spawned two platinum-selling singles and put Young the Giant on the map as an indie band that could be the next big thing.
Ultimately, that never came to fruition.
Yes, Young the Giant did have a handful of successful singles: "My Body" was inescapable after its 2011 release, followed by "Cough Syrup" and "Apartment," both of which also charted on Billboard's Alternative Songs chart. But what came next was a long, unremarkable decline into bona fide obsolescence, culminating in the certifiable yawn-fest of last year’s Mirror Master, a record so insignificant you’d be forgiven if this is the first time you learned of its existence. Each record that followed the group’s promising debut proved to be more disappointing than the last, as the band’s songs became increasingly choked by overproduction and a groan-inducing sense of self-importance.
I’ve seen Young the Giant live a handful of times, mostly because the band is constantly touring. The group has spent the better part of the past decade as a staple on festival lineups, plenty of which have taken place in South Florida. Their set at the 2017 Okeechobee Music Festival was a welcome alternative to seeing Flume on the main stage and offered plenty of compelling drunken-frontman antics from singer Sameer Gadhia. At the time, it seemed the group had retained its status as an exceptional live act despite a dearth of exceptional material.
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Then came last year’s set at Fort Lauderdale’s Riptide Festival, which was an alarming setback for a group that until that point had shown a knack for consistency in the live setting. Playing second fiddle on the second stage to Sublime with Rome and Panic! At the Disco, the band seemed out of sync from the beginning and failed to fully capture the crowd. Tracks from Mirror Master fell startlingly flat, and even old favorites felt as though the air had been sucked out of them.
Young the Giant has always been a band with grand ambitions that at times can feel more like delusions of grandeur. At first, it was charming to see a young band flaunt so much confidence, but eventually, that charm wears thin when the confidence isn’t backed by greatness. As the band’s output has grown increasingly self-important, it’s lost the charisma and catchiness that made it so appealing when it began its career as an underdog.
Though it feels like Young the Giant has fallen into a career trajectory that resembles a graveyard spiral, there might be a glimmer of hope for the California rockers. The band’s best elements haven’t been totally lost over the years; they’re just not being utilized well anymore. As the group’s return to the Bayfront Park stage approaches, so does an opportunity for redemption after the fiasco on Fort Lauderdale Beach that left a bad taste in the mouths of many South Florida fans. If the band can stick to what it does best onstage and returns to a recorded output that recalls the breezy fun of its debut album, there’s a chance Young the Giant could finally end up living up to its potential.
Young the Giant, and Fitz and the Tantrums. With Coin. 7 p.m. Saturday, July 20, at Bayfront Park Amphitheater, 301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; bayfrontpark.amphitheatermiami.com. Tickets cost $29.50 to $174.25 via livenation.com.