It’s been a rough 15 months, so it’s perhaps no surprise that James Smith’s
second gig back has left him with heartburn. “Seriously, has anybody got any
Gaviscon?? he enquires, clutching his chest a mere two songs in.
Someone in the audience politely obliges, while his bandmate scolds him for
eating pizza between sets and then lying down. Clearly, this whole performance
business is something that the frontman needs to limber back into.
If rock’n’roll is in need of a Rennie, Yard Act could be the chalky antidote.
Back at their formative home venue for a matinee and evening show, this Leeds
quartet are something of a local treasure, but have made waves nationwide with
their blend of spoken-word social commentary and cherry-picked indie and no-wave
references. And tonight, helped along by some fetching band-designed beer mats, there’s a commitment to shaking off the lockdown rust together.
Though the blurb of said beer mat jokily promises that the set will be kept short – to avoid
“shoddy phone footage of new songs being littered all over the Internet” – it is a
show highly worthy of a shaky Instagram story. Opener ‘Strip’ has an irresistible
‘Spirit in the Sky’ bass-line that gives way to loose-hipped capitalist critique,
while ‘Dark Days’ is the perfect meeting point between Franz Ferdinand and
Ian Dury’s Blockheads, befitting of both dingy pub backrooms and serious home-
stereo scrutiny. Frontman Smith seems to know that they are capable of
straddling both crowds. “As we know, streaming is bad and I only listen to vinyl,”
he quips with a deadpan smile.
Judging by the three brand new tracks that are debuted tonight, Yard Act seem to be hard
at work refining their greatest strengths. ‘The Overload’ is full of rollicking
drums and singalong choruses, while ‘Dead Horse’ is an almost guaranteed
future single: a smart, sharp take on Brexiteer groupthink that feels about as
catchy as a particularly aggressive airborne virus. ‘Land Of The Blind’ is perhaps
the most interesting of them all, a natural bedfellow to ‘Peanuts’ that borrows
creepy grooves from ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’-era Arctic Monkeys. Lyrically
speaking, it is seemingly about the nature of reparations — socio-political
compensations that don’t go far enough, rugs pulled from under people after
their trust has already been won. It could be about Windrush, Boris Johnson,
cladding scandals, all three or none at all. Therein lies Yard Act’s genius —
whereas other politically-inclined acts have risked so-called ‘virtue signalling’ in their specificity, Smith’s pen always finds a way to educate and explore rather
By the time they get to their now-calling-card ‘Fixer Upper’ (complete with new
spoken-word prequel about Alan, the man who has since moved in but “didn’t
bother to book a viewing”), any early corona-nerves are well and truly shaken.
The band move that little bit more freely on stage, audience masks are tweaked
that little bit further to permit more audible cheers. Before Smith can finish the
final line of closer ‘The Trappers Pelts’, his mic falls off the stand and the gig is
ended, a befittingly-comedic sign that perhaps we have pushed our luck far
enough for one night. Thank god there was no deeper hiccup — if tonight is
anything to go by, Yard Act’s imminent future will be one of rude health. Next
time, we’ll pack the antacids.