In the middle of a chart battle with Years And Years with their debut album The Overload, Yard Act are on a mission to play as many gigs and sell as many records as humanly possible to try and top the charts at the end of the week. We caught their last minute gig at Manchester's Yes, announced 24 hours before, their fourth of the day and witnessed a tired and emotional band capture the imagination and hearts of a packed out crowd.
The album charts are in a state right now. The record industry - labels, shops, management all in on it - has cottoned on to the fact that you can release two dozen versions of the same album and sell it to a small band of dedicated collector fans, put on some gigs where basically you get a free album bundled in to the ticket price and further inflate the chart position. Cassettes and CDs with band member sleeves (because we all want a tape with the drummer's face on it that most people don't have the means of playing), fake Japanese obi strips, signed prints, different colour sleeves for different record shops, the list of new and ingenious ways of selling the same thing to the same people grows with each passing attempt at it and Yard Act's marketing campaign for this record has been one of the smartest so far.
Is it OK? Of course it's not. Yard Act know this themselves, James says as much when he deadpans that they want a number one album so they can disappear into obscurity and at 31 get a mortgage in a part of North Leeds that has a Waitrose. At moments in the gig he looks out at the crowd through Malbec-infused eyes with a sense of wonder, a disbelief that this is actually happening. A dozen or so years in bands that created magnificent music - if Yard Act's success has the sole benefit to humanity of people appreciating Post War Glamour Girls then sell me some more tapes - with pretty much zero attention allows them a lot of slack when faced with the improbable situation of being in with a real chance of a number one album.
They're working their arses off to get there too. From standing in the freezing cold at Fox's Biscuits car park at Batley, an old workplace of mine, I know how cold that gets, to this ridiculous schedule of signings and gigs that stretch out in front of them with just the four of them and their tour manager / driver / sound engineer Pete who James calls out as the hero he is and gets the crowd to chant his name. It's this humility, this almost embarrassment at what they're trying to achieve - "we know exactly what we're doing, we've got about 12 fans and it's just an illusion" James confesses late in the set whilst Ryan laughs at the fact he's struggling to stay awake. There's been a lot of sneering at the DIY label that's been attached to them because they're signed to Island Records - or "the corporation" as James calls them at regular points - but in the places where they and we grew up you're taught that if you want success you have to work hard and opportunities will come with a bit of luck. It'd take a real lack of understanding of where they've come from to begrudge them that, whatever you think about the methods. And lastly anyone who quotes Dutch Uncles as a point of inspiration deserves what ever they desire.
But are they actually any good? The answer to that is an unequivocal yes. They're tight yet fluid enough to be able to decide the setlist as they go along - determined to make every show a different experience for the audience. There's a great rapport between James and Ryan, the latter determined to rip the piss out of his front man at every opportunity with a real sense of love and camaraderie. They sing about things that impact us - the toxic corrosive nature of racism and people being scared of those that don't look like them and the consequences of that for all of us, the pervading and destructive cultural yearning for nostalgia rather than something new and challenging that is ever increasingly poisonous and having to live from pay check to pay check. It's done with a sharpness and an intellect that is sadly lacking in so many of their contemporaries too.
The crowd are eating out of their hands by the end of the opening title track and by the time, half way through the eight-song set, they hit Rich and Dead Horse, the floor is bouncing to a sea of heaving bodies and a crowd-surfer who nearly takes his head off on the projector on Yes's low roof. After so long without the ability to get together in a room and do this at close quarters, Yard Act feel like they're capturing that spirit perfectly and riding the wave that's built behind them.
There's a line in The Incident that goes "being a hypocrite does not devalue the merit of the accusations made." It is perfectly possible to be appalled by the chart chicanery that's going on here and yet still be willing Yard Act over the line versus Years And Years in the nicest chart battle of all time ("he's a great actor, he made me cry, he's a very nice man but he's had a number one album" James says putting down a dissenter in the crowd). If this is how the music industry is going to operate now, you want people talking your language, fighting the same cultural battles and taking the fight to the real baddies. If Yard Act can fuck it up from the inside out then you suspect that's exactly what they'll do. Buy the album.