Yak @ Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff – 01/04/2019 | Live Review

Photo by Robyn Kelly

Yak put on an inspired showing in Cardiff!

Following the release of their second album Pursuit of Momentary Happiness, Yak have embarked in a lengthy tour of the UK, and on April 1st they took over Cardiff’s Clwb Ifor Bach with a show that was quite the opposite of an April’s Fools. Featuring crowdsurfing, one of the most hectic mosh pits I have seen in a long while, and a couple beautiful moments of sheer unadulterated noise, it was like stepping into a time capsule, with a mood that would not have been out of place at a historical Rolling Stones gig from the 70s and a sound that at times felt straight out of the future.

Vanilla.

The first support was offered by Swansea trio Vanilla. They engaged with the far-from-easy task of delivering the early set of the evening with a forward, confident stage presence. I always enjoy seeing bands, especially young ones, looking like they are having genuine fun when performing live, and that element was definitely present in this performance. The sound was easier on the ears than the rest of the evening, with a good number of pop-punk suggestions and an interesting interplay between lead and backing vocals. The sound was not as finely tuned as it should have been at times, and there were hiccups, but that can be part of the charme of a live set and it didn’t spoil the experience. It’s good to see more young bands tackle this kind of sound and style, especially in Wales, which has been somewhat lagging behind the wave of excellence we have seen recently in independent music. A fun set, a good opener to the evening.

Photo by Fred Galucci

Mush.

The second support, Mush, were to me, I have to confess, a surprise, albeit a very pleasant one. The band from Leeds are supporting Yak on a good number of dates on this tour, and I am glad to have caught them on the Cardiff one. Their music had somehow passed me by and there isn’t really anything that I know of, at the moment, that sounds quite like it. From their looks alone one would think them a glam rock band following in the tracks of T. Rex, and there is something of the low-key aggressive bounciness of that kind of music in their sound, but that’s only the start of it. The vocal delivery, and some of the lyrics, reminded me in certain moments – surprisingly – of Dead Kennedys; both the sound as a whole, and the stage presence, was a swirling mix of retro rock and cutting post-punk. The band is charming on stage and has some very strong tunes playing in their favour; set closer Gig Economy definitely drew the audience in and left everyone wanting more. As far as I am concerned they have certainly gained a fan.

Photo By Robyn Kelly

Yak.

The main event of the evening, however, was without doubt the Yak performance. It was a long one, topping a hour and a half, and once again the band lived up to their reputation as the type of performers that can put on an intense, memorable show. I have seen frontman Oli Burslem described as an extreme, even scary performer before, and in the most frantic moments of the show it’s easy to see where those labels come from: he certainly throws himself into the music entirely (and threw himself bodily into the audience more than once). With his now trademark look, barefoot and dressed entirely in white, he is by this point as close to an iconic figure as the up-and-coming indie rock scene has in the UK.

Atmosphere.

He certainly has an ability to engage very closely with the audience, and the front rows were completely enthralled at more than one point, which made for some very poignant moments. The mood in the room was very similar to what one can see in old recordings of gigs from the 70s, when there were less health and safety concerns and restrictions and performers were less aloof than their contemporary counterparts; there was even a moment in which Burslem’s guitar was flung into the audience, caught, and returned unharmed to the stage. It was in many ways a deep, emotional experience, I have a feeling, for everyone involved; during the louder, more powerful tracks, like Fried or Bellyache, the audience let go completely.

Photo by Robyn Kelly

Yak couple a strong sense of showmanship with a remarkable technical attention on stage; I know only a handful of performers that I’ve seen swap guitars mid-song and still deliver seamlessly, but Burslem does this throughout the set. Included within the setlis, as expected, a good number of tracks from the new album, with old favourites Harbour the Feeling, Alas Salvation, and my personal favourite Smile making an appearance. The mellower songs provided for a good moment for the audience to catch their collective breath, but also made for a softer, poignant mood, aided by the red-and-blue lighting; I think this set has reconciled me with This House Has No Living Room, the only track in the new album I felt slightly underwhelmed by, which gains a deeper, raw edge performed live. The performance also had a bit of the political to it, with Burslem shouting rally-style into a megaphone on stage, or repeatedly stating “I’m a slave to the algorithm” right in the face of the audience while strolling off stage.

Overall.

It was a strong show for a band that has repeatedly demonstrated they don’t intend on pulling any brakes with regards neither to the message they put in their music nor in the dirty but precise kind of sound they’re going for. It was also – one would hope – a good sign for the Cardiff scene, which recently has started attracting more bands of this caliber, and demonstrating the great potential that spaces like Clwb Ifor Bach, soon due for expansion, might have for the grassroots music scene.

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