Gig review: THE YARDBIRDS – Bush Hall, London, 21 November 2014

Capable support was supplied by the promising Some Velvet Morning, a three piece pop-rock outfit taking a 21st century twist on some classic ’80′s influences. The band came on to the atmospheric Nancy Sinatra track from which they take their name. They found a hall illuminated with glittering chandeliers hung from a baroque ceiling; and began playing to an audience holding real glass bottles and treated to underfoot carpeting. How civilised.

The band lived up to the venue and began in fine style with a couple of new tracks, ‘No Walls’ and ‘Damocles’, both viscerally powered by Gavin Lambert who found a livewire, Cure-heavy tone for his bass. This provided a more than adequate foil for his brother Des’s ringing guitar and soaring vocals.

A good few tracks came from the band’s confident second album ‘Allies’. The title track was a standout with strong melodies, flowing guitar and not without a few ardent followers, judging by the arm waving at the front. ‘Beautiful Dress’ was another to go down well. The material has elements of The Edge’s chiming guitar, a dose of Echo and The Bunnymen’s rhythm patterns and sometimes a vocal phrase or two that could be Jim Kerr. Des Lambert’s voice is both strong and tender, and proved to be a real asset tonight.

SVM are nobody’s clones though. When the band chose to flip the power switch, there was intensity and originality aplenty. ‘Losing My Mind’ from the first album and set closer ‘How To Start A revolution’ were both dark, complex tracks fuelled by bottom-end grunt and the versatile Rob Flanagan on drums. The dirty, fat sound from the bass was again stunning.

There’s a need to augment the highlights with some stronger material and a bit more urgency or drama really make the set stick, but this was a pretty good showing.

I’d seen The Yardbirds as part of the 50th Anniversary Rhythm and Blues tour back in January and was looking forward to seeing how the new line up had progressed. I was a bit disappointed in truth. The band struggled all set with a bad sound and it had a significant impact on their performance.

The band were hampered by having only about ten minutes to sort their kit and tune up on stage before kicking off the set.  This meant a low-key and vaguely shambolic opening as they stopped fiddling with amps and turned round to begin playing ‘Drinking Muddy Water’.

Both Ben King and Top Topham suffered loss of guitar sound through the first three or four songs and frontman Andy Mitchell could get no amplification at all on his harmonica. The otherwise wonderful ‘Heart Full of Soul’ was particularly messed up. Topham grinned through it all and introduced the band, to warm applause, but both he and King were so distracted with pushing buttons and twisted switches on their stacks that the overall quality and tightness suffered.

By the time the riveting ‘Shapes of Things’ came round, the band were visually more relaxed and were able to concentrate on playing and enjoying themselves. ‘Five Long Years’ was hugely enjoyable with Topham showing he has lost none of his touch over the years and melding nicely with the superb Ben King.

‘Back Where I Started’ was a bit of a surprise from Jim McCarty’s Box of Frog days. He took over lead vocals and this effort was probably the highlight of the gig, leading the band through a very sharp ‘…on the road again’ influenced groove. The material went down well with an audience surprisingly spanning the generations. This was not a crusty old blues crowd by any means, despite Topham suggesting that the Yardbirds were essentially a blues band at heart.

‘Over Under, Sideways Down’ was delivered pretty smartly, but problems appeared again in ‘Smokestack Lightning’ where the interchange between Topham’s too-sharp guitar and Mitchell’s squeaky harmonica was disjointed and a little bit painful.

I had to leave before the set closer of ‘Dazed and Confused’ and encore of ‘I’m A Man’, but even if they were epic, this was a gig where The Yardbirds never really came to terms with the poor sound. This will not go down as one of the finer nights in their illustrious career.

Review by Dave Atkinson

Yardbirds gig review – 23 January 2014


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