For the last decade, an extensive Y & T tour has been just as much a feature of autumn as leaves falling and the nights getting shorter. The Californians seem to have a love affair with the UK and judging by a near sold out Islington Academy, the feeling is reciprocated by fans for whom their no-quarter-given, value for money shows have become a must see event on the gig calendar.
There have also been several well-chosen support acts over the years, the latest being Praying Mantis, still with brothers Chris and Tino Troy from the band that represented the more melodic end of the NWOBHM spectrum, but with a relatively recent recruit in singer John Cuijpers.
The Dutchman has a stronger voice than his predecessor Mike Freeland and looked the part with his long curly hair and loud shirt: unfortunately other than the bass drum, that was the only loud thing as sound problems impaired the early part of the set as they went in an instant from opener ‘Fight For Your Honour’ from last album ‘Legacy’ to their eponymous song from the very earliest days.
Highway demonstrated the band’s more AOR tendencies and after another newie in ‘Believable’, ‘Dream On’ was strongly sung, reminding me of some of the mellower moments of the Ronnie James Dio-era Rainbow.
Unfortunately the Academy’s early curfew (more anon) meant that despite going on stage at 645pm, they were only allocated half an hour and the set was swiftly over, albeit with an oldie but goodie in ‘Children Of The Earth’, Tino burning up and down his fretboard in an epic that called to mind early Iron Maiden. This should be seen only as a taster of their potential and only with a full set could they be fully appreciated.
Anticipation grew for Y & T as founder, lead singer and lead guitarist Dave Meniketti jogged on stage, shoulders hunched, and ‘On With The Show’ somehow seemed a perfect opener, doubly so because its bass intro was an introduction to new four stringer Aaron Leigh, who fitted in well, lacking the stage flamboyance of predecessor Brad Lang but giving the rhythm section a more solid feel than before.
The Bay Area rockers’ live show is an object lesson to many of their contemporaries: there are no gimmicks and while the band are visibly enjoying themselves, little time is wasted with set piece routines pieces or chat between songs.
Instead they tear through a balanced selection of their catalogue, and while the best-known songs are always present and correct, the rest of the set varies from tour to tour and often between shows according to audience requests to keep the interest fresh from their loyal fans.
After ‘Lipstick And Leather’ brought back memories of my first exposure to the band, hearing their 1984 Donington set on the Friday Rock Show (sadly not having been at that legendary day), there was a great mix, from the relatively recent (‘Shine On’, ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ and ‘Blind Patriot’) to relatively obscure – ‘Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark’ with its very AOR-ish chorus – to reassuringly familiar- ‘Dirty Girl’, where Dave and his very capable second co-guitarist John Nymann swap the guitar solos almost in tag team fashion, and the hard driving ‘Mean Streak’.
Only twice did they falter – once when Dave was persuaded by an audience shout to sing a lyric from ‘Rock n Roll’s Gonna Save The World’ which would fail in these more enlightened terms, the other in bizarre fashion when the sound crew stopped the show for a ‘digital console reboot’, whatever that is.
Back in the eighties, while I liked Y & T, I always felt their material was a bit on the predictable and repetitive side. Over all these years of live shows I have gradually realised the error of my teenage ways and this was no exception. There were two epics in a ten minute ‘I Believe In You’ (the post-gig pub chat was how this was not included in a certain magazine’s recent list of the 100 best ever guitar solos) and the more rarely played ‘Winds Of Change’, with Dave pouring his heart and soul into a song he dedicated to recently deceased original drummer Leonard Haze.
Two of the other rarely played songs also showed their variety, with the Saxon-like riffing of ‘Down And Dirty’ contrasting with the melodic, mid-tempo ’I’ll Keep On Believing’ with some great harmony lead guitars, a style I think they could utilise more.
Back to old favourites, a stonking ‘Black Tiger’ was followed by ‘Midnight In Tokyo’, the anticipation only heightened by the way a slightly rearranged song began in slower, stripped down fashion, and it was followed by a couple more from ‘Mean Streak’ in ‘Take You To The Limit ‘and ‘Hang ‘em High’.
Proving that the set was truly career spanning, their more commercial attempts to ride the mid 80’s MTV wave and get a hit in ‘Contagious’ and ‘Summertime Girls’, both of which were great fun, were sandwiched by a very early number in ‘25 Hours A Day’ which had a more traditional feel with an almost rock n roll groove.
By the time of ‘Rescue Me’, a Friday night crowd was truly going crazy and reliving their youth, but to prove they were not stuck in the past Facemelter’s ‘I’m Coming Home’, with its typically Y & T galloping riff went down almost as well.
The one frustration was that, as at previous shows here, they ran out of time. With other cities on the tour getting a 2 ½ hour set, the London crowd was being short changed by the ridiculously early 10pm weekend curfew to allow this venue to be turned into a club night, and this has to be reviewed for future tours.
Nevertheless the final five minutes saw a fantastic atmosphere as the rollicking ‘Forever’ provoked communal singing and even outbreaks of pushing forwards and pogoing from grown men old enough to know better. It was a great end to another top Y & T show and you can guarantee that nearly everyone will be back for more, same time next year.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
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