Yard Act at Northumbria University: Leeds group keep getting better through introspective and chaotic set

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Yard Act are one of the country's most exciting bands at the moment and they showed a huge Newcastle crowd why over the weekend.

"Who was at the Cluny all that time ago" asks James Smith, vocalist and part of the two behind the formation of Leeds-based band Yard Act, about a third of their way through a set at Northumbria University.

The gig in question may have only happened in July 2022 but a lot has happened in the world of Yard Act since. At the time the band's first album, The Overload, was a matter of months old and offered scathing reviews of the state of the nation and life in general within frantic post-punk production.

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After another trip to Newcastle for a live show at Newcastle University, the band returned on Sunday, March 17 with a new look, new sound and hugely impressive show. Long gone are the trenchcoats which became synonymous with frontman Smith - a look the band embraced so much the released a seven minute long track, The Trenchcoat Museum, poking fun at the look last year - as well as the caricatures of small town Britain and in come R&B inspired tracks and more introspective lyrics on their second album, Where's My Utopia, which was released on Friday, March 1.

After a stunning support slot from New York rockers and friends of the band Gustaf, who could easily fit into the early 00s 'Meet Me In The Bathroom' stateside scene, Yard Act arrived on stage and kicked off with the second album's opener An Illusion, a slow start compared to the frenzied songs usually used by the band on The Overload tour.

Dead Horse from the debut album followed before a return to the newer material with singles When The Laughter Stops, which worked perfectly despite the lack of collaborator Katy J Pearson.

Despite a 9am start, the headliners were flying through their set and, aside from a small break during Land Of The Blind for the crowd to ceremoniously throw a 50p coin on stage, as per the lyrics, the full throttle set wasn't overly exhausting thanks to the major differences in sound and style between the albums - the sign of a band reluctant to just become another UK post-punk act, sprinting away from their peers to veer towards R&B or dance inspired tracks on Where's My Utopia.

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Songs like We Make Hits transitioned perfectly into the aforementioned Land Of The Blind before a small break to introduce a gameshow element to the set as Daisy Smith and Lauren Fitzpatrick, two backing singers and dancers fans will recognise from the band's music videos, brought a wheel on stage and encouraged a fan to use it to select the bands next song - taken from the Dark Days EP, the band's first release in February 2021. A stunning rendition of Fixer Upper followed an on-stage conversation with the fan chosen to spin the wheel.

Gameshow break out the way, a special moment came during Down By The River, a track about childhood bullying, regret and being unable to apologise for past actions, as the track breaks down to a public apology from Smith, a single spotlight beams down on the lyricist, a truly intense moment in stark contrast of the dance-based Dream job which followed.

That is one of the best things about Yard Act right now, the band are arguably one of the best bands in the UK right now thanks to their open and frank lyricism, both introspective and socially aware with the odd 'nudge nudge' style of comedy, combined with the ability to balance it with the upbeat danceable, bass-heavy grooves from Smith's brother-in-musical-arms Ryan Needham.

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Although the setlist was a perfect combination of new and old tracks, we were slightly dissapointed on a personal note to not hear Blackpool Illuminations, a long spoken work piece on nostalgia, family and parental relationships. Other tracks from the new album which didn't make it to the setlist came from The Undertow and Grifter's Grief.

This is shown perfectly during the final two tracks of the night when, after a short time off the stage, all band members return for first album closer 100% endurance before The Trenchcoat Museum, a non-album 7 minute dance heavy track which opened the world to the new era of Yard Act after the first album.

Joined by Gustaf for the close of the night, the extended live version of the track felt like a celebration of a band who were close to being confined into something they didn't want, and instead threw themselves out of the cage fans and peers expected - resulting in one of the best live music experiences Newcastle will see this year.

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