Thrilling show by Leeds outfit proves they are on an undeniably ascendent trajectory and will be selling out far larger rooms soon
Yard Act arrive in Leicester towards the tail end of a lengthy tour that’s taken in not only the usual big cities, but also less often visited places such as Blackburn and Warrington. They’ve clearly been putting in the hard graft, and it appears to be paying off. They are on an undeniably ascendent trajectory: the buzz around them is strong, and it’s backed up by hard facts including a debut album that charted at number two earlier this year and a string of sellout shows. If the Academy hasn’t sold out tonight then there certainly can’t be many tickets left. The place is packed.
Yard Act are touted as a ‘new’ band but they have a collective experience that is apparent almost as soon as they arrive on stage. Something of a Leeds indie supergroup, Yard Act’s personnel have variously honed their chops in bands such as Hookworms, Menace Beach and Post War Glamour Girls. The latter, also fronted by Yard Act’s singer James Smith, take their name from a John Cooper Clarke poem, and that influence comes through in his stage presence and in lyrics that show a wit as dry and abrasive as sandpaper.
Smith is tricky to pin down as a frontman. How much of his repartee is an onstage act and how much an authentic facet of his personality? At first he comes across as a Jarvis Cocker wannabe, prancing around in a fawn trenchcoat – but a less aloof, more cuddly figure soon emerges. His chameleon-like tendencies pleasingly confound at times. During The Trapper’s Pelts he bellows ominously into his mic, causing bassist Ryan Needham to ask if he’s trying to sound like Nick Cave. ‘Because it sounds more like Bernard Manning,’ he adds.
The banter, varied and extensive, is clearly an integral part of a Yard Act show. What’s less clear is whether it’s an engrained part of the act that will persist as long as the band does, or whether it’s a product of the nervous excitement generated by the feeling that Yard Act might really be about to take off. Smith is refreshingly honest about feelings of that kind. After tearing through Rich he holds forth on the financial insecurity of the professional musician – but doesn’t rule out potential future wealth. He also provides a summary of what he paid for his outfit (the trenchcoat was half price in H&M, his footwear gifted by Dr Martens) and a rough idea of Yard’s Act fee for playing on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (less than a month’s rent, after tax and the manager’s cut).
At times the performance feels somewhat ramshackle and disordered. The sound is often too muddy for the lyrics to really make their impact felt. Songs are halted for minutes at a time while Smith’s banter engine motors along – or, during Land Of The Blind, guitarist Sam Shjipstone performs a magic track, making a 50p piece disappear as described in the song’s lyrics. Smith invites a volunteer from the audience to recite the ‘poem’ part of Peanuts – the orator who comes forward turns out to be drummer Jay Russell’s sister. She struggles with her lines until Russell jumps offstage to provide a crib sheet.
But this is all part of Yard Act’s charm and, crucially, the musicians are a tight enough unit that they can project all of this glorious spontaneity without ever missing a beat. The 13-song setlist is fairly short, but when Smith asks anyone who feels the show was not good value for money to make themselves known there is only a silence. This is in striking contrast to the fists in the air, the raised glasses, the cheering, pogoing and laughter that has accompanied the gig. There is something quite thrilling about watching a band play and confidently predicting that in a year’s time they will be selling out far larger rooms.