Yard Act & Nuha Ruby Ra at The Establishment, Wakefield, 25th May 2022
In a touring schedule that’s seen them traverse land, sea and air, from Coventry to Copenhagen to Coachella, Leeds indie rock outfit Yard Act return to West Yorkshire for an intimate show in neighbouring Wakefield.
Opening act Nuha Ruby Ra is a singular, striking onstage force. Illuminated by red light and flashing strobes she is a compelling performer, rarely staying still, whether shuffling to the sound of the rumbling bass and industrial beats of her backing track or submerging into the crowd itself. An inspired choice of hers is handling two microphones, one heavy with reverb, allowing her voice to range from seductive whispers to shattering yelps; she’s certainly an artist to keep a tab on.
It can be tough to tell when Yard Act are joking.
It’s present in the satirical edge of frontman James Smith’s lyrics, being often counterbalanced with a helping of genuine sentiment and consideration; for every Rich or Payday there’s a 100% Endurance – it’s sincerity with a smirk. Their ambitions to top the album charts proved difficult to pin down in a similar way, initially their campaign seemed like a sharp parody of music industry mechanics in its relentlessness, but the idea of a group like Yard Act gaining a debut No 1 record captured the imagination of so many, that it would be insulting to suggest it was just some bit smarmy piss take of the system.
It’s present on this night too, there’s a lot of humour to be found in seeing a band walk onto a tiny stage in Wakefield to the sound of Fatboy Slim’s Right Here, Right Now like some ancient arena rock monoliths.
But again, it sort of works, this tour which began as an album driver now looks more of a seemingly never ending victory lap (despite coming 2nd in the chart after all) and so why shouldn’t they enter the stage to a big beat classic? Why shouldn’t they throw everything at the wall for a number one record?
How many times does anyone in life find themselves in these positions – at least Yard Act seem to be having fun with it.
They continually poke fun at themselves and the audience, and in between songs Smith’s quick witticism evokes that of a stand-up comic more so than rock n roll star; jesting about the crowd owning multiple copies of the album, lightly butting heads with them over song requests and describing the vinyl preparation procedure as “the Macarena for 6 Music dads”.
The Wakefield crowd is warmly receptive, but though the show sold out minutes after going on sale it’s not quite the unbridled mayhem I expected, more respectful enthusiasm, which Smith naturally jibes the crowd about.
It’s never awkward however, there’s a sense that the moments of sudden self-deprecation and off the cuff tangents mid-song keep things fresh, with this being their 10th consecutive date in a tour that seems to show little in the way of slowing down, it’s maybe a necessity at this stage to keep them from exhausting themselves of their own material.
Said material sounds, naturally, well oiled to within an inch of its life and is performed with vigour and energy, standouts being the post-punk throttle of The Overload, the wonky funk of Dead Horse and the anthemic hopefulness of 100% Endurance, all which sound brilliant in such an intimate venue.
Tall Poppies however is the highlight of the evening, its extensive and emotional concluding monologue testament to Smith’s talent as a lyricist and performer.
In spite of the initially subdued crowd, Smith concludes the set with affection for Wakefield, bringing up its similarities to his hometown of Warrington, remembering his days around these parts in previous group Post War Glamour Girls and playfully relaying a list of local pubs and landmarks during a duet of The Modern Lovers Roadrunner with Nuha Ruby Ra.
Be clear, Wakefield loves them back, we just often don’t show it on our faces.
The tour will continue to march on, to bigger stages and bigger crowds, but shows like these where the group’s character and charisma, their sincerity and their smirk are in full force, are a great reminder of why the public got behind them to begin with.
Words by Ryan Bell
Photo by James Brown
27th May 2022