Yard Act Review – Sour ChroniclersPosted by Mike Schuck
Yard Act leader James Smith snarls at his bass player, eking out a funk rhythm, "It's a never-ending cycle of abuse!"
“I've got the blues and I can't seem to shake them!” Dark Days is the tune, a sinuous banger in which Smith, spittle-flecked, weaves a bungled arrest, several mink corpses, and the reinvention of the wheel into a current British snapshot.
Despite the title, Dark Days is a lot of fun: mustachioed guitarist Sam Shipstone lets rip a surf-guitar solo from across the stage. Smith later confesses that his wrist is broken in two places and is taped up.
Shipstone, unfazed, coaxes wayward blizzards out of his instrument all night, producing a small but dedicated moshpit in the backroom of this tavern.
Even though it's a Monday night in Cambridge, Yard Act, a four-piece from Leeds, exudes an obvious sense of urgency. They've just won a trophy, the Anchor, in a Dutch music festival evaluated by Tony Visconti and others, despite being only 18 months old and on their first headlining tour of the UK. For months, BBC 6 Music has been hammering their music.
The majority of this tour is sold out, as are big portions of their upcoming tour, which will take place at larger venues in February.
The Overload, Yard Act's debut album, will be released in early January. When it was revealed, it received 2,000 preorders almost quickly, which is a huge figure these days for a guitar band that is still in its infancy.
They're also on the soundtrack for Fifa 2022 (released this week), which means their music will be heard by millions of people who aren't just outside, but completely unaware of, our home indie rock bubble.
Last year, the epidemic took a toll on a number of artists. When lockdown came, Yard Act had only recently progressed from the status of idle menace to the practice room.
The Trapper's Pelts, Peanuts, Fixer Upper, and Dark Days, all of which sound fantastic live, presented not just the next in a long series of promising new British post-punk groups, but one whose wit and bile arrived with sprung heels and an air of mischief.
Despite having the same surname as the famous Mark E Smith of the Fall and a penchant for shouting non sequiturs, the earliest version of Yard Act used a drum machine. As a result, the Act have more in common with Nottingham's rave-rant kings Sleaford Mods tonight than with some of their more somber no wave contemporaries.
There are also echoes of another Yorkshire band, Pulp, who made everyday humiliations danceable. There's also common ground with peers like Dry Cleaning and Black Country, New Road — two more titles from 2021's wordy, angular list of honorees.
Granular detail and guitar music that refuses to stay in its lane are essential to all of these bands. It's difficult to overlook the parallels with the first post-punk era, when a hegemonic Conservative administration ruled over terrible days.
Fixer Upper, maybe Yard Act's most well-known song, opens the concert with a discordant disco stomper with a guitar line that could clear tooth plaque at 30 paces. Fixer Upper is Smith's most fleshed-out character study, even if many of his lyrics are short stories (a novella version of their early hits is reportedly in the works). “Graham” has recently moved into the area.
Graham is Brexit Bloke; nearly one-third of the crowd knows his every word. Quick to call builders cowboys, quick to eye-roll at hard-to-pronounce surnames, unduly proud of his status as a "two-home owner," Graham is Brexit Bloke.
Smith's rebuttal is subtle and witty rather than venomous. “We're going to plaster pound-shop terracotta frogs all over the place!” exclaims “Graham.”
Even if Smith didn't ask for requests right away, this is the kind of place where banter is unavoidable. The set list on the floor is mostly blank, save for Strip, Yard Act's instrumental opener, and three as-yet-unreleased album tracks, which he says were inspired by the Goosebumps choose-your-own-adventure children's books.
The most recent is Dead Horse, a sweary exploration of basic British values that may not survive these tough times - the nation's sense of humour, our music, our discussion. Or it may be about something else entirely — Smith's language has a muddy open-endedness to it, where lettuces grow in potholes (Payday, on its live debut), or where "the palms greased are never on the ends of the elbows digging the graves of the recently deceased" (Payday, on its live debut) (Land of the Blind).
The song's character offers to make a 50p piece – and himself – disappear towards the end of Land of the Blind. As the other three-quarters of Yard Act offer pumping exit music, Smith does just that, scooping up his coat and wading through the mob.
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