Live Review and Photo Gallery: Yard Act // o2 Apollo, Manchester, 16.03.24

Image: Lana Williams

Leeds outfit Yard Act are leaping from the doom and gloom of their debut record The Overload, which finds itself steeped in socio-political commentary and notes on the gentrification of their much-beloved city. In 2024, we’re presented with a new, refined, shinier Yard Act that finds solace in childhood nostalgia and reflecting on what made life in Britain so great (see ‘Blackpool Illuminations’). 

They no longer care who’s listening to their music, or whether it’s popular, or how many potholes are in roads (‘Payday’), but instead looking inwards for happiness (“With my beautiful family and my dream job no longer a dream // Still, now it baffles me // I attained perfection with you // I attained perfection //So why the fuck was I wondering what wankers would think of album two?”).

Trying their utmost to shake the label of ‘post-punk’, their latest release, Where’s My Utopia, verges more on pop territory, with the overt danceability of ‘Dream Job’ and funky notes of ‘Petroleum’ (a track which sadly didn’t make the setlist). In support of their sophomore record, Yard Act have been on an impressive trawl around Europe, an adventure which finds themselves in the heart of Manchester, in the 3,500 capacity Apollo – an impressive upgrade from their last visit to the city’s Albert Hall.

Opening with the spoken-word introduction of the first track from their sophomore album, ‘An Illusion’, fans quickly matched front-man Smith’s frenetic energy – which found him bounding around the stage with microphone in hand. 

A track in the setlist that wasn’t expected (due to it being a collaboration with Katy J Pearson) was ‘When The Laughter Stops’. It’s not often ‘features’ are performed live, as they either require the lead singer to don both parts, or need a backing track (something which has been slowly but surely phased out since the 00’s lip-syncing accusations and scandals), but Yard Act certainly didn’t falter. 

The nostalgia-ridden ‘Fizzy Fish’ (a nod to which is later found in the album on ‘Blackpool Illuminations’) reflects on frontman James Smith’s childhood favourite confectionary item (a sugary topic that crops up more than once on Where’s My Utopia?) delivers sweet reflections before quickly whipping back to the first record for jagged instrumentation (‘Fixer Upper’).

Following the poetic delivery of ‘Down By The Stream’, the second half of the setlist finds itself heavily dominated by The Overload, with only a brief intermission for the new fan-favourite ‘Dream Job’. Easily the standout track of the new record, ‘Dream Job’ translates impeccably to a live audience. With fans shouting back the conversation-esque chorus of the track (“But oh my God, it’s ace // Just look at my face // Top, I’m on top of the world”), the cut pulls together Yard Act fans old and new into a singular chant that echoes in every corner of the Apollo.

‘Pay Day’ and title track ‘The Overload’ had arguably the best reception from the crowd, uniting them in the highlights from their first record. With a quick exit from the stage after a heartfelt tribute to the North (‘A Vineyard For The North’), the crowd doesn’t budge an inch in anticipation for the much-expected encore.

The Elton-John approved ‘100% Endurance’ is what brings Yard Act back into the spotlight, much to the delight of long-time fans. Another hail to the North of England, ‘100% Endurance’ was the first track that the band presented as being a love-song to Leeds. With references to Nathan’s House (Brudenell Social Club), and epic nights out, Smith declares he “[doesn’t] remember leaving Nathan’s house” before the crowd rejoice in joining in the tongue-in-cheek wit of the lines to follow (“Ah yeah, how could I forget // Why my pants were soaking wet // When we’d been pissing ourselves laughing at the news”) – a well-received and worthy encore choice.

Closing the night is ‘The Trench Coat Museum’, an almost ten-minute long ode to post-war fashion trends that nods to ever-shifting cultural norms and self-assurance. The track sees the band bid farewell to the Apollo, and close the door on the Manchester leg of this new Yard Act era.

“(Would you say that’s your biggest fear?) Would I say what’s my biggest fear? (Change)”, they note in ‘Blackpool Illuminations’, but it’s in their switch-up of genre that they’ve found themselves at their most unique and authentic. The Apollo finds itself being the third venue I’ve seen Yard Act perform at (preceded by Manchester’s The Ritz, and their residence at Brudenell Social Club), and they never fail to deliver. But most of all:

They’re ace. They’re cool. They’re on top of the world. They’re Yard Act.

Words and photography by Lana Williams

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