As a relative newcomer to Yak, two things initially intrigued me about the rough and raucous London trio.
First was their reputation as an unpredictable, formidable live act. Despite their youth (only in their third year as a group), critics already make gushing comparisons to early era White Stripes, The Stooges, and even those mythological titans of rock and roll, Led Zeppelin. Listening to their recently released debut album ‘Alas Salvation’, the reminiscences are hard to miss, as suggested by frontman Oli Burslem’s repeated punk snarl ‘Gilded lily, nest of vipers, never ever did invite us’, competing for attention with sludgy guitar licks on the anthemic title track. Add consistent crowd-surfing into the picture, and Yak seem poised to capture that crucial element of mayhem which always helps nostalgic guitar riffing go with a swing.
Wailing guitar riffs gave a rousing call-and-response structure to Oli’s powerful, sometimes screamed vocals.
Second was a curious description of Yak’s sound, courtesy of online music directory Allmusic, calling them ‘nervy, magnetic, and photogenic’. Photogenic? Focusing on their appearance in the first few words felt like a slight against a band with such bold, aggressive punk spirit. But once again, it’s easy to see why: Drummer Elliot Rawson could be Jack White’s long-lost brother in all his gothic moodiness, meanwhile watching the pouty-lipped vocalist Oli Burslem’s on stage swagger, you get the feeling that someone’s been told one too many times that they’re like Mick Jagger.
Therefore, my hopes were high when I arrived at The Bullingdon on Monday. As soon as Yak took the stage, they began a guitar-heavy set that ought to have been a triumphant showcase of their debut. Its minimalism translated very well to a live setting, and all three musicians did justice to the record seamlessly. Wailing guitar riffs gave a rousing call-and-response structure to Oli’s powerful, sometimes screamed vocals. In particular, ‘Victorious (National Anthem)’, a vicious parody of ‘Rule Britannia’ (lyrics include: ‘No two-up, two-down, no picket fence. What you’re sick? Tough shit, you’ll miss the rent’), was convincingly Jonny Rotten-esque, and Yak performed it twice during their set. Unfortunately, punk’s power lies in its interaction with an audience. Its essence is anarchy and, well, anarchy was in short supply that evening. This was made most clear by a band member’s failed attempt to crowdsurf midway through the gig and, potentially discouraged, Yak lost their spontaneity, choosing not to interrupt their set with talk between the songs.
So, in all, there was not a whole lotta love for Yak. Their energetic set was marred by the slightly tepid response from a crowd that seemed more eager for an early night than the prospect of rambling on till dawn, dazed and confused. To be sure, they’re clearly more than capable of putting on a great show; but some of that potential was wasted by Yak’s failure to make a real connection with the crowd. A communication breakdown, you could say.