When Yard Act took to the stage at the Mercury Prize last month, there was something relatively sedate about their performance — an almost let’s-just-get-the-job-done-type approach for a band that’s typically in a talkative mood, especially with witty frontman James Smith at the helm. Perhaps the somewhat grandiose, seated affair just wasn’t to their liking.
It was therefore a welcome sight to see them back on fine form at O2 Kentish Town Forum, with flourishes of Smith’s sarcastic commentary mingled between their Mercury-nominated album, The Overload.
Prior to their appearance, though, was young Connie Constance, fresh from an album of her own, Miss Power, out also at the start of last month. Her new, rockier output made for a much more interesting live affair compared to the slightly dull opening tunes.
Lines like “I’m not your perfect little princess / I have my own unique vagina” from ‘Kamikaze’ certainly liven proceedings. This was a welcome increase to the energy, for a crowd expecting the raucousness of a band like Yard Act, Constance’s hair whipping the air in a frenzy by the end of her set.
Then, after the sardonic public announcement of a band “from a recently gentrified suburb of North Leeds”, the lads took to the stage, Smith in his customary trench coat. Similarly to Ms. Constance, they grew into their roles, feeling their way into their set after a three-way flurry of opener ‘Pour Another’, ‘Dead Horse’ and the colloquial ‘Fixerupper’.
“All we want is decent people and decent tunes,” Smith said in his first of many quips. Thankfully, they were in the right place. The crowd’s median age of forty-odd – that being too old to mosh – meant there was little by way of knobhead-edness, amid the large venue.
Specifically, there was no coin-throwing, with Smith joking once more that he’d have to start “sabotaging” the band’s progression “so we can go back to the small rooms” where coin-throwing (or money-making, in Smith’s view) was a less violent, more acceptable affair.
Perhaps it’s because of such money problems, now felt by many, that Yard Act have seen their stock rise the past two years. “No one ever thought Yard Act would be playing these sorts of venues,” Smith said, to a humbling cheer from the crowd in response. Yet here they were: Mercury-nominee crowd-pleasers. They are in many ways, a band for the cost-of-living crisis and subsequent tune ‘Payday’ — its chorus of “Take the money, take the money, take the money and run” — seemed to, quite literally, fit the bill.
There was something new, we were told — a track the band were “enjoying playing” as they “head toward album two”. But as its title ‘Dream Job’ suggests, the theme is still very much situated in working life — even if in a positive manner. Their later rendition of ‘Rich’, albeit an earlier song from The Overload, bears a similar theme, Smith subtly stating “It appears we’ve both become rich”.
‘Tall Poppies’ was their most contemplative moment, Smith narrating the story of making it out of the small village life and into the big city. There was plenty more chat of life in the big smoke, Smith taking the piss out of North London for being “the posh bit”, much to the inevitable chagrin of Kentish Town. But it was all in jest.
Perhaps by way of making it up to us – following a rather weary, last-night-of-tour rendition of ‘The Overload’ – Smith even did the unthinkable by taking of said customary jacket, as they played ‘100% Endurance’. Its salt-of-the-earth lyricism, with the existential refrain “It’s all so pointless” didn’t bring the mood down. Quite the opposite. It was a reminder to dance while we can.
It also showed the band have evidently worked in some space between some of their songs to give Smith space to talk, as the band paused two-thirds through for yet more jovial quips.
After one more for the road, ‘The Trapper’s Pelts’, they were done, Smith telling one poor sod in the front row “We’re all gonna die pal”.
“You’ve been fucking wonderful, we’ve been fucking amazing,” he added. And off they popped, for a reported two beers before bed. They’ve got a BBC Radio 6 Show to be ready for tomorrow with Steve Lamacq – although that’s just a typical day in the life for these unlikely lads nowadays.