In-jokes, crowd participation and a dark lyrical tongue: Yard Act live at London’s Village Underground.

Photo: James Brown | Words: Karl Johnson

Appearing in the midst of lockdown chaos in April 2020, Yard Act’s debut single ‘Trapper’s Pelts’ – released on their own Zen F.C. label – made quite the splash, after all we were knee-deep in the recent re-re-revival of politically-charged post-punk. If Sub Pop recruited TV Priest and 4AD nabbed Dry Cleaning, then surely Island Records could rest easy on Yard Act to capitalise the commercial movement of new post-punk acts. The question always remains the same, do they live up to the hype?

Fast forward to February 2022 and less than two years later the band’s debut album ‘The Overload’ has charted 2nd – narrowly beaten by Years & Years, in the week’s chart lead up, just 400 copies separated them – tonight they’re playing a re-scheduled Village Underground gig that sold out in June last year. To make matters more confusing, their next London headline in April at EartH, has also been sold out for a while.

Yard Act step onto the stage at Village Underground with all the confidence of a band at the peak of their powers, vocalist James Smith enters a few minutes later as the tight-knit instrumental trio of bassist Ryan Needham, drummer Jay Russell and guitarist Sam Shjipstone build into a frenzied, angular groove which provides a fitting introduction.

“London this isn’t good enough. This is a Thursday night! We can change the world with a show.”

As the 6music fanatics descend upon the merch stand before the set, “sorry, only small and XL left” states the merch seller, I overhear a man telling his friend that he “loved the EP but the album hasn’t stuck yet”. Despite hits from the band’s album (released less than a month ago) such as the more pop-leaning singalong chorus of ‘The Overload’ and the dark lyrical tongue of ‘Dead Horse’ going down a storm, the set is underpinned by tracks from Yard Act’s superbly popular ‘Dark Days’ EP, with album tracks providing a more mellow reception. In true Yard Act fashion, humour and dialogue with the audience was constant, on set-closer ‘Land Of The Blind’ James Smith asks a crowd member to lend him 50p for a magic trick, promising to make himself and the coin disappear, he then walks offstage for the end of the set. As expected, the encore caused the most chaos with EP cuts ‘Trapper’s Pelts’ and ‘Peanuts’, the latter track saw Yard Act welcome on stage two separate fans (the first singing into the mic a random song before admitting they’d never heard of the band and being ushered offstage), the second fan reciting a section of the spoken word part to ‘Peanuts’.

As with their album, tonight’s show is frequented by characters within the Yard Act world such as Graeme – a xenophobic property developer and ‘two home owner’ – and for those who’ve absorbed Yard Act’s incredibly thoughtful music videos and lyricism, it’s an in-joke that improves with age. One thing for sure is that it’s a perfect time for Yard Act to exist, few other bands within the wider UK ‘post-punk scene’ have the potential to crack into the mainstream quite like the Leeds four-piece. I had a lingering thought as I walked home past the high-rise offices and neon lights of Shoreditch, which was, James Smith sent the memo, you just wonder whether tonight’s audience all got the message.