By Sarah Taylor
To quote Forrest Gump, Yard Act shows are like a box of chocolates…
No. Seriously, you never know what you’re gonna get. This is something the band prides itself on, changing their setlist for every show, and always open to a bit of spontaneity. Tonight is no exception.
James Smith (vocals) and Ryan Needham (bass) formed Yard Act together in 2019, co-writing many of the band’s songs whilst Needham lived in Smith’s spare room. Since adding Sam Shjipstone (guitar) and Jay Russell (drums) to the line-up and unleashing a slew of sharp, satirical singles, they’ve emerged as one of the UK’s most exciting bands in a long time.
What sets Yard Act apart from many of the bands in the post-punk revival scene they’ve found themselves lumped into is their ability to make a point about the state of the world without taking themselves too seriously.
Yard Act open with the title track from their debut album The Overload which narrowly missed the top spot in a chart battle against Years & Years. Bursting with riotous riffs courtesy of Shjipstone and tongue-in-cheek lyricism, it sends the crowd into a frenzy.
During songs, Smith leaps around the stage sometimes leaning into the crowd wide-eyed and menacing, sometimes taking the mic-stand with him. His witticisms and one-liners go down a treat. An ace at improvisation, Smith’s patter between songs keeps the crowd entertained without feeling forced. Shjipstone is equally enthusiastic, staying onstage slightly longer than the rest of the band between the main set and encore to show off his guitar-playing prowess.
For a relatively new band, Yard Act have garnered quite the following of fans – I recognise a few faces from their Liverpool show two nights earlier in the crowd. This and the fact that people are able to keep up with their slippery sprechgesang. I was interested to see how a song like ‘Rich’ might translate in a live setting – slightly sped up, its main refrain echoed right through the venue.
During ‘Land of the Blind’, Smith usually asks the audience for a 50 pence piece as part of a magic act/swindle, (which, by the way, he must be making a small fortune out of!) but instead someone throws a t-shirt emblazoned with the Aatma logo, an independent Northern Quarter venue, on stage. Smith politely declines changing into it, with a quip about eating too many crisps during the band’s recent stateside tour.
More astute observations and crunchy riffs on ‘Payday’ and ‘The Trapper’s Pelts’ go down a storm. Their latest single, the sentimental but by no means soppy, ‘100% Endurance’ makes for a pretty wholesome moment in the night as gig-goers grab their loved ones and “Shake them by the shoulders, scream in their face / Death is coming for us all but not today […] Give it some of that good stuff that human spirit / Cut it with 100% Endurance.”
‘The Incident’ offers an equally thrilling singalong moment – its not everyday you’re stood in a room filled with people yelling “I’m irrelevant!” at the top of their lungs. My personal favourite ‘Dead Horse’ is reserved for the latter part of the show, a bizarre post-Brexit anthem that takes aim at our mess of a government and the middle-Englanders who vote for them.
Yard Act never fail to engage with the crowd – Smith points out that Needham was recently invited back to his university to speak about his success. This is a crowd well-versed in Yard Act-isms, as Smith asks what he studied, and someone shouts out “Probably one of them pointless media degrees!” before cheers of ‘Ryan! Ryan! Ryan!’ surface.
Notably absent though is their breakthrough single ‘Fixer Upper’ despite crowd cheers of ‘Graham! Graham! Graham!’ Instead towards the end of their set, the band begin taking requests, and we end up with some warmly welcomed rarities – EP track ‘Peanuts’ and the ought-to-be released ‘Human Sacrifice.’
Smith even invites the three lads who threw the T-shirt on stage to recite the spoken-word segment of the former song, referring to them as the shit Beastie Boys. They do a pretty good job, taking it in turns to say each line and jumping up and down, much to the band and the audience’s amusement. In the encore, the band invite their opening act Nuha Ruby Ra, an immersive avant-garde performer, back on stage to duet a Modern Lovers song – something which came about after discovering a shared love for Jonathan Richman. It’s unpredictable moments like these that make Yard Act gigs worth every penny. Completely chaotic but in the best way possible.
Yard Act never stop touring – you can buy remaining tickets for the rest of their May tour as well as their upcoming November tour which includes a date at Manchester’s O2 Ritz on 25th November here.
Read our interview with Yard Act here.
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