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1st April 2024

Yard Act live in Manchester: An unforgettably ace headline at the O2 Apollo

Yard Act return to the Manchester stage with new album, ‘Where’s My Utopia?’, in a night of dance-party celebration
Yard Act live in Manchester: An unforgettably ace headline at the O2 Apollo
Credit: Antonio Ross @ The Mancunion

Words by Lucy Craig

With souls refuelled on petroleum, Yard Act returned to the Manchester stage. Their live show at the Apollo felt like a homecoming, with thousands of fans that just keep coming back.

As half-ironically addressed in the single ‘We Make Hits’ from the band’s new album, the Leeds band has been at the forefront of pioneering and redefining boundaries of not only post-punk but also live music. Addressed by critics as holding a “bizarre position,” the band’s genre-bending concoction of raw and insightful spoken-word vocals sets Yard Act apart from other artists in the UK. Addressing issues of post-Brexit Britain by the band’s frontman James Smith over grittily dreamlike instrumentals is the winning formula.

As the music faded and the lights dimmed in the Apollo, the bubbling anticipation of the crowd was contagious. The tension was burst as the stage exploded into life as Yard Act members appeared in unison, including Smith clad in his iconic oversized trench coat, bounding onto the stage with an energy immediately reciprocated by the cheering Manchester crowd.

Entering as one, the six-piece broke into the funky and infectious melody of ‘An Illusion’, the first song on the new album, Where’s My Utopia?. The work of the album’s producer Remi Kabaka Jr can be heard as Gorillaz-eqsue rhythmic influences encompass the track.

yard act
Credit: Antonio Ross @ The Mancunion

Smith could be seen positioned right on the edge of the stage, preaching the lyrics “Where’s that utopia?” like a post-punk prophet, accompanied by angelic backing vocals. Getting up close and personal with the crowd, the band quickly established their hypnotic stage presence that let the mesmerised audience know they were as much a part of the performance as the band was.

By the second song, ‘Dead Horse’, the crowd had erupted into mosh pits – a staple of Yard Act shows. The standing area of the O2 Apollo was quickly transformed into a bustling dancefloor for the night.

yard act
Credit: Antonio Ross @ The Mancunion

Characterised by the same humorous and satirical storytelling that also defined the tracks of Yard Act’s debut album, The Overload, their second studio album Where’s My Utopia? sees the band embrace dance-enthused, funk instrumentals. An introspective narrative from Smith is carried out by sonically by Ryan Needham, Sam Shipstone, and Jay Russell. Smith takes us on a journey of self-exploration which simultaneously reflects the band’s journey as a whole.

The continuing dance-party vibe of the night was made clear through the following songs. Vocalists Daisy Smith and Lauren Fitzpatrick joined in a choreographed recreation of the music video for ‘When the Laughter Stops’ from the new album. Draped in colourful discotheque-style lighting, the theatrical routine ended with Smith being playfully ‘kicked’ to the floor by his band members, reflecting the deadpan and self-deprecating humour of Yard Act’s grungy lyrics and aesthetics.

yard act
Credit: Antonio Ross @ The Mancunion

Not for a second losing the 3,500-strong audience’s engagement, the band followed by initiating a massive game of spin-the-wheel, with a randomly selected audience member, being invited to the stage to select which of the band’s debut EP, Dark Days, songs the band would play next.

With fate selecting ‘Fixer Upper’, Yard Act’s second ever single, rarely played in a live setting by the band, this made for a magically unique and unforgettable moment amongst the audience. As the familiar rumbling, grungy basslines of the classic track rippled out across the packed venue, the crowd’s excitement was characterised by a collective knowledge that everyone was experiencing something special together.

yard act
Credit: Antonio Ross @ The Mancunion

The effortless move between cherished older tunes and their new material only spoke to how well this new album had been received – you couldn’t tell from the audience’s passionate chanting of lyrics that their second album was just 16 days old. Between fans joining in on the irresistibly catchy chorus of ‘Dream Job’ from the new album with shouts of “Its Ace! Top! Mint!” and the lively reciting of Smith’s iconic monologue in the Yard Act classic, ‘The Overload’, it became apparent that the new musical direction of Yard Act has been undeniably embraced by new and old fans alike.

With an energy that translated impeccably from the smaller capacity venues that previously hosted the band, such as Manchester’s YES in 2022, the sky is the limit for Yard Act’s live shows. As the O2 Apollo hosted Yard Act’s debut headline there that night, their performance produced, from the crowd, an energy that could’ve filled the venue twice over.

Smith shared a sentimental and reflective moment about this with the crowd as he reminisced on “seeing my favourite bands here” at the Apollo, relaying that his dream of playing the venue himself was too big and significant to even “make the bucket list.” Acknowledging the band’s humble beginnings, Smith showered the crowd with copious amounts of gratitude in an emotional ‘we’ve-made-it moment’ which was met by a proud and supportive cheer from the crowd.

The encore saw the wall-to-wall venue join together in a dance celebration of life to ‘100% Endurance’. Inspiring chants of “It’s all so pointless… and that’s beautiful!” rang out in the crowd as friends embraced and sang along. These lyrics speak to the deeply insightful messages in Yard Act’s songs that have earned the band a rightful place in the hearts of so many – to see the beauty even in life’s bleaker moments.

Staying true to the comedic nature that sets Yard Act apart, Smith breaks character, basking in the elongated, rapturous applause of the crowd, before bringing us back down to earth with a “last chance to dance and last chance to become one.”

yard act
Credit: Antonio Ross @ The Mancunion

With support acts Gustaf and Hang Linton joining Yard Act on stage for one final celebration of the band’s eight-minute-long metamorphic comeback single, ‘The Trench Coat Museum’, the artists break into a flash-mob style dance routine for the remaining groove-filled and futuristic instrumental of the song. Enticed by the routine on stage, the crowd merged into one massive dance circle for a big final boogie – reflecting the sense of togetherness that had defined the night.

Yard Act’s down-to-earth energy drives their refusal to be confined to a box musically, and as their insistence on being themselves and “speaking about where they’re from” is carried through into their new album and live shows, the audience’s unshakeable appreciation for them was only deservingly solidified. Proving again and again that their nonconformist approach to songwriting and live shows makes them ones to watch is arguably what has landed them a well-deserved spot on this year’s Glastonbury line-up, following the rest of their headline tour.

A performance as entrancing as this one leaves no question as to why Yard Act draws in such immense crowds repeatedly. Their refusal to do anything less than to put their whole souls into what they do is truly inspiring – they promise exciting things in the future.

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