Gig Review: Yard Act @ Black Cat Oct 13th


I was walking in the pouring rain, trying to craft the perfect tweet about coats, when I heard a British accent cast out from an umbrella up ahead. Was it a member of Yard Act, hailing from Leeds? No, it was a blonde woman jabbering away about floss or whatever it is the English discuss. But what an indicator! What a motivator! With the spirit of the monarchy ablaze within me, I beat Google Maps’ estimation of my arrival time by a full 10 minutes, entering just as the opener, GUSTAF, began.

An all female band with the exception of their guitarist, Vram Kherlopian, each member of GUSTAF’s attire looked like they belonged in a different decade. Lead singer, Lydia Gammill, bounced around the stage, possessed by raving Beetlejuice-esque mannerisms. The audience was completely enthralled with their pure punk performance. Tara Theissen in paticular was totally wacky-tastic, tapping on a tambourine and squeaking a toy chicken and blowing on a rape whistle while singing backup vocals. Talking to them after the show affirmed my belief in their awesomeness. All of them were incredibly kind with most of the band being from New Jersey (#represent). GUSTAF was the best opener I’ve seen of any DC concert thus far. 

Next up, Yard Act! Sporting a trench coat throughout the duration of the show despite copious amounts of sweat, James Smith, the frontman, said he was “so bored of playing live that [he] wants to lose the audience and get them back again by the end of the set.” In his iconic speak-singing timbre, Smith racked off semi-unintelligible word after word with guitarist Sam Shjipstone and bassist Ryan Needham on either side, with drummer Jay Russell towards the back. In a similar fashion to GUSTAF, the band’s energy was off the charts, with Smith acting a bit like a sappy drunk in the pub, raving about Neil Young, anti-capitalism and the American dream. In these monologues (or, per Needham, “Ted talks”), Smith reflected on Yard Act’s rise to fame within the last year, which allowed the band to tour and its members to make a profit from their musicianship. He also spoke of working on being present, that he’s spent “his entire life training to live in the moment” and shows like these are “moments we will never be able to live again.”

While Smith jokingly claimed these musings were meant to pad the set’s runtime, they connected directly to Yard Act’s performance. Smith spat lyrics like a contestant in a poetry slam at an anger management clinic: “since I have become rich/I’ve been constantly living in fear of losing everything” from their song “Rich”, and “give me everything you’ve got/knowing that you can’t take it with you/and all you ever needed to exist/has always been within you” from “100% Endurance”.

Right before the titular song off their most recent album, The Overload, Smith showcased a piece of paper on which he had written details from a direct message received on Instagram from someone named Madeline. She was looking to start a band and wanted audience members to contact her if they were interested (if this sounds like you, DM @maddiesirois). Madeline, it turned out, happened to be standing right next to me – serendipitously, apparently, as we later discovered we are from the same town. Smith took the opportunity to talk about how great it is to be in a band: “It’s a gorgeous existence to be on tour… if fucking making noise feels right to you, do it. ‘Cause life is bizarre and you’ll never know where you end up.” A fitting ending to an inspiring speech, after which he dedicated the band’s performance of “The Overload” to her. 

Coated in an armor of British rock Yard Act’s songs are dedicated to humanism, a fact prominently showcased in the band’s lyricism, a crash course in emotional, if cautious, optimism. The audience tried as hard as possible to match this energy, with head bops and full body jumps galore. Smith spouted about being grateful, thanking the crew multiple times over for “being so fucking lovely.” We felt his genuineness, and responded with unadulterated captivation. 

Yard Act’s performance was all I could ever ask for out of a musical experience. I came out of the concert sweaty and happy, and I think I made a friend! To quote Smith, “all that matters is that you’ve had a fucking great time.” 

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